Ever Tried To Find Out More About The Many Street Vendors You Cross Daily? Here’s All You Should Know

Posted on May 14, 2014 in Society

By Akshay Thakre:

No matter how tempting the ads of KFC, Pizza Hut or McDonalds may be it does not even come close to the heavenly aroma and lip smacking flavour of street food. You may relish the offering, enjoy your time out in the bazaar or the mall and go home with a clean conscience that you helped a poor man in need while also stressed so as to not get a bad case of running stomach the day after. Have you ever tried to find out the bigger picture behind that one of the million street vendors, who gratified your taste buds?

In India more than 92% of the workforce is in the unorganized sector. The chaiwallah at your local street crossing, the domestic maid who sweeps your house clean, and the watchman at your residential building, all come under this class. This class composed of several castes and sub castes is what can also in economic terms be called, Non Corporate Capital.

street vendors

In his book ‘The Politics of the Governed’, Partha Chaterjee describes the form of governmental regulation for population groups like street vendors, illegal squatters and others whose habitation or livelihood verge on the margins of legality as Political Society. He further argues that people constituting this group are not generally regarded as proper citizens possessing effectual rights but are rather seen as a demographic group with specific empirically established and statistically described characteristics which are the targets of various governmental policy.

Now here are two things to understand before we make a prejudiced judgement about our government. Firstly, dealing with the political society described above requires a tacit acknowledgement of various illegal practises. Hence, the states usually treat such cases as exceptions justified by specifically laid out and special circumstances, so that the mechanism of rules and regulations is not compromised. Secondly, this political society is a huge, diverse, ethnocentric and a complex collection of social groups unlike the properly constituted civil society. The administration and management of this multitude of people is not only challenging but perplexing as well.

The unorganized sector is the backbone of Indian economy and while it does lack the organization of the organized sector, what it doesn’t have is a foresight and strategy to ensure their rightful place in the society. The organizations which fight for the rights on a political level have failed to ensure lasting rights to the workers as many of them get caught up in the murky world of politics. It would not be totally wrong to say that the management of Non Corporate Capital is a political function. These political functions are facilitated by the democracy. In other words, the huge unorganized sector is reduced to a vote bank for various political parties who successfully reap the political dividends of their allegiance.

Now again, this massive revenue boosting form of capital cannot be ignored by the government as its integration with the organized sector will not only improve the Human Development factors of the masses but also give them legal efficacy to a better livelihood and a secure future, all this while giving our economy the much needed boost of financial inclusion.

On the bright side, there are various initiatives taken by the legislature. The landmark Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008 – an act that provides for the social security and welfare for workers in the unorganised sector is still pending in the parliament and some legislation’s that  have been passed are waiting implementation. One of such legislations is the Street Vendors Bill 2012 which is successfully cleared by the houses but awaiting President’s signature.

This bill is to regulate the street vendors and protect their right to livelihood. There are more than 10 million street vendors in India. In Indian units that amounts to One crore people. The bill itself is a landmark achievement as it will free the vendors of daily hassle of dealing with the police and prevent their exploitation in various other forms.

The salient features of the bill include:
– Formation of a Town Vending Committee in every local ward, zone and authority with representation from the street vendors and local authorities’ which shall manage the street vendors by formally registering them and granting them their rights to street vending. TVC will also allocate Hawking Zones to vendors to pursue their livelihood hassle free.
– Chapter 4 chalks out the procedure for relocation of street vendors and guidelines for confiscation/return of confiscated goods.
– Chapter 5 guidelines the process for Dispute Redressal. It streamlines the process of grievance redressal for the vendor giving the local authorities control over the entire process.
– Chapter 6 dictates the local authorities to come up with street vending plan to promote a supportive environment for the livelihood of street vendors.
– Chapter 9 prevents exploitation of street vendors at the hands of law enforcement officials provided they follow the prescribed norms.
– Penalties for disobedience of laid out regulations by street vendors have also been laid out in chapter 10.
– The act also provides financial subsidies for Town Vending Committee to undertake research, education and training programmes to advance knowledge and understanding of the role of the informal sector in the economy.
– The bill also contains an act to overriding effect.

The bill is far from perfect but yet guarantees the right to livelihood for street vendors and prevents them from being exploited. One of the major drawbacks of the scheme is that it gives much of the executional powers to the local authorities. The state v/s centre is always on a collision course with each other over implementation of various schemes. This one will be no different. Municipal laws come under jurisdiction of the state and hence may heighten the existing state-centre friction further. India has no real estate regulator as of yet and the lack of such a regulator shall cause a lot of problems for creating hawking zones as mandated by the bill. There is also no participation of street vendors in the town plan making process and hence there may be cases of vested interests taking over vendors interests. The implementation of this bill is going to make the difference as various restrictions have been imposed on the vendors regarding time, space, jurisdiction etc. The bill may hit the street vendors businesses directly and vendors may go out looking for other areas to hawk. The concerns arising out of loss of income and rise of powerful lobbies is also not addressed in the bill.

However the bill misses out on a crucial point, the bill does not talk about financial inclusion of the street vendors into the local economy. There are no provisions for social security of vendors or any provisions for their financial status as well. Rights to livelihood to any group of the political society without financial inclusion and social security benefits would be counterproductive in achieving the goal of inclusive economic growth.

Financial inclusion and social security benefits along with legal rights to livelihood shall ensure the smooth integration of the unorganized sector into the economy. Most of the member of political society lack monetary savings of any kind and do not use financial instruments of transaction apart from cash. They live on hand to mouth basis which makes survival for them a challenge in every sense. In this scenario, there must be schemes from the Government as well as the private sector to ensure that political society members get access to financial instruments. They should have bank accounts, savings accounts, investments and other such instruments to be financially secured. Financial inclusion is the need of the hour and if we are to uplift the political society, policy makers need to ensure their inclusion in the financial system as its pivotal to economic growth. They must be made a part of pension schemes, welfare and financial schemes initiated by the government. Their social security is an alarming issue and prevention of the political class from any form of exploitation rests with the legislature of the country which needs to formulate relevant laws and framework for the same. The Judiciary needs to review these laws and enforce it judiciously. Last but not the least, there is a need to properly constitute the political society by giving those lasting rights and ownership benefits like the civil society.

The political society needs to be freed from the shackles of political class who negotiate their rights solely for electoral benefits. The nexus of associations and politics can be ended if there various groups of the political society are guaranteed their rights to livelihood along with financial and social upliftment. The dream that one day every street vendor, every domestic maid, every rag picker will be an empowered individual socially, financially and legally can be a reality through sound implementation of progressive policy reforms. Although the empowerment of the political society sounds good and is ethically the right thing to do, the question we need to ask ourselves as society is are we ready for an all-inclusive society where underclass are at par with the upper class? Some food for thought for your grey matter.

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