Street Vendors: Traffic Hazard or Service Providers?

Policemen On Commercial Street In Bangalore

Street vendors form an integral part of India’s culture. However, the ubiquitous services provided by them and the current conditions in which they are forced to live are superseded by our tendency to deem vendors as ignorant of traffic rules and regulations.

These vendors or ‘hawkers’ have been present in India ever since the barter system was developed. They have grown in numbers over time and today there are over 12 million of them. Street vendors sell virtually everything, which is required for daily survival at affordable prices like clothes, food, toys etc. They earn hardly more than 200 to 400 rupees a day and some even less. Street vendors are poor and sell to the poor, forming the backbone of poor India’s needs not only in smaller towns but also in big metropolitan cities.

Majority of the ‘hawkers’ are not educated and come from rural areas and under developed states, to the so-called ‘rich cities’ to earn a living.  A side effect of their lack of education is that most of them are not familiar with traffic rules and regulations which is why they encroach on footpaths, public places, roads, public squares, metro stations etc. ‘Hawkers’ are not protected by any government policy and are harassed by local authorities. Government schemes such as The National Policy of Urban Street Vendors are yet to be implemented through local and municipal authorities and The National Association of Street Vendors of India (NASVI) registered in 2003 struggles for macro level changes crucial for the survival of such vendors.

Although street vendors often disobey traffic safety ruls; they contribute in a major way to the unorganized sector of our GDP. Moreover, the profession of street vending also is a source of employment to a large number of both women and children. The local municipal bodies are oblivious to the unhygienic sanitary conditions in which they live. The worst part of the already inconvenient and hard-hitting lives of these vendors is the fear of eviction. A recent example of this is the Commonwealth Games held last year. There were reports in various leading newspapers of how vendors were being forcibly evicted from Delhi in order to “beautify and clean the city. This reduced them from already poor vendors to mendicants.

Vendors need to be recognized as a legitimate workforce of the society.  Apart from recognition, there is also a need for a policy under which a separate body can be constituted that can act as a safeguard as well as a watchdog for the street vendor and which could also acquaint them with their rights and limits.

There needs to be a system of communication between civic authorities, shopkeepers, residents associations and vendors to bring out dynamic and innovative solutions. These dialogues could also lead to developing of more effective policies. This body could also act as a link between the municipal bodies and the street vendors. Special zones can be allocated by the body for vending whereas they could be kept away from busy areas at rush hours so as to allow smooth movement of people and vehicles and thus reducing the traffic menace caused by them.

Eviction along with the never-ending harassment has made the vendors themselves wary, hence, now even if policies are implemented the vendors will always be critical of such policies and most likely be stubborn to comply with them. Therefore, the government needs to review the labor laws and street vendor policies of developed countries like the United States and England, where the vendors are allowed in specific zones and their rights are respected. In fact there could be a partnership between the local governments and the vendors where the government could offer incentives in the form of getting them new carts, allotting them permanent slots at very reasonable fee and issuing them permits or licenses in lieu of their movement being restricted to specific areas. This scheme would help curtail the large growth in the population of vendors through limited licensing, the vendors selling in only certified zones would help ease the traffic problems also selling in clusters in common stalls would help in the growth of labor unions to protect the rights of these vendors due development of feelings of unity and lastly it would be beneficial for the local economy and the vendors themselves as they would slowly become more contemporary and methodological in their approach and help give completion to modern retail and wholesale chains.

Author: Vedant Batra

Finance | Economics

McCombs School of Business | College of Liberal Arts | The University of Texas at Austin