The Street Vendors Bill 2013: False Hope?

The Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Bill, (‘The Bill’), 2012 was passed by the Lok Sabha on the 6th of September 2013. The Bill, in the words of Sushma Swaraj, was an effort of the law-makers to “wipe the tears of the poor”. It seeks to provide recognition to the street vendors forming a major part of the informal sector (available here)

It provides for the registration of street vendors and requisition of licences for street-vending in order to ensure their safety. (available here). It also chalks out broad principles marking out limits for the civic bodies to regulate.  Further, it intends to secure the right to livelihood of street vendors through preservation of natural markets. So as to achieve the objective, the Bill provides for a process for licencing and registration.

The basic problem faced by street vendors is that of their right to exist in the urban informal sector, because their occupation is illegal. Hence, they cannot enjoy either the dignity or the right to work. The judiciary has provided for security of street-vendors prior to the passing of the Bill also. In Bombay Hawkers’ Union v. Bombay Municipal Corporation AIR 1985 SC 1206, the Court, sensitive to the conditions of street vendors, provided for their protection. The Court held that eviction of hawkers and confiscation of goods without a proper procedure would restrict the freedom of trade of the hawkers. Another notable step of the Court was in Olga Tellis v Bombay Municipal Corporation where similar powers to evict were given to the Commissioner the Court held it was violative of Article 14, 19 and 21.

The most notable decision of the Court in this regard is Sodan Singh v. NDMC (1989) 4 SCC 155. The Court accepted that streets could be used for vending as a legitimate purpose. Moreover it held that street-vendors had a right to freedom of trade under Article 19(1) (g) of the Constitution of India to carry on their businesses subject to public policy. But most importantly the Court directed the Delhi government to frame a suitable enactment to regulate the functioning and legitimacy of street-vendors. The Court held that “If properly regulated according to the exigency of the circumstances, the small traders on the side-walks can considerably add to the comfort and convenience of the general public.

The Bill seeks to take up the cause of the Court in providing for the security to street-vendors, at the same time restricting their functions so that they do not become impediments. While it includes provisions where police or the municipal corporation cannot evict street-vendors having licences (available here), it provides for penal provisions for violations of the regulations and allows eviction of non-certified street vendors. The Bill also greatly empowers the Town Vending Committee (TVC) and gives it power to decide ultimately on almost all issues of determining the vending zones.

Though the Bill has been hailed by the National Association for Street Vendors as a positive social welfare step, it has certain issues which are left untouched. The primary of such concerns is the exclusion of vendors on the Railway premises. Moreover, the question of efficiency in granting the licences forms a crucial step in the success of the legislation. In Mumbai there are around five lakh street vendors yet only around 18,000 of them have been given licenses. The excessive delay in granting licences in Mumbai under the state law is a precursor to the future grant of licenses by the state after passing of the Act.

The Bill also envisages that the central law will have overriding effect on state laws that are inconsistent with it.  Current state laws differ with the Bill in terms of powers of the TVC, and mechanism for dispute resolution which is broadened under the Bill along with the regulation aspect. Parliament’s competence to legislate on this issue depends on whether the Bill is interpreted as substantively addressing rights and obligations of street vendors (List III) or relating to municipal zoning (List II).

There is no provision for consideration of stakeholders in the Bill before the civic body makes a plan for street vending. Such lack of consideration may lead to arbitrary measures affecting the livelihood of the street-vendors.

Though the street vendors have hailed the Bill as a boon, the question remains whether in effect it will be so.

This article has been written by Gauri Pillai, a second year student at the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences. 

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