As opposed to the farmers who had fought for the repeal of three agricultural legislations, hawkers across the country are protesting for the implementation of an Act, enacted seven years ago, as the BJP government increasingly finds itself in a tight spot to implement laws.
The hawkers will hold a nationwide protest on December 8, seeking proper implementation of the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act that came into force from May 1, 2014.
Thousands of hawkers held demonstrations at New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar on November 24 to protest against the central government’s failure to protect the rights of the vendors.
Similar demonstrations have also been held in other parts of the country, as the hawkers feel deceived by the Narendra Modi-led BJP government, which had promised to protect the rights of the urban poor by implementing the law.
“Narendra Modi himself sold tea on a railway platform. So, when he became prime minister from being a chaiwala, we had great expectations that he would understand our problems. But he belied our expectations,” said Upendra Mall, a hawker at Kolkata’s New Market area.
The 2014 act sought to protect India’s millions of hawkers from the threat of eviction drive and harassment by police and even shopkeepers in front of whose shops they sell their wares, by providing legal shield to the street vendors.
According to Urban Ministry’s data, there are one crore hawkers in India. But, a survey by the National Hawkers Federation (NHF) in 2015 claimed the number to be four crore.
On an average, a hawker sells products worth ₹2,000 every day, which means the daily turnover of this informal sector is over ₹8,000 crore, according to the NHF’s estimate.
“Even seven years after the law came into force, the plight of the hawkers remain unchanged as almost all the major cities in the country, including New Delhi are yet to implement all provisions of the laws such as formation of town vending committees, specification of vending zones, identification of street vendors, and issuance of certificates of vending,” said Mohit Velecha, an office bearer of the NHF.
Velecha said that the act is generally laudable, but it has some inherent lacunae such as it did not provide any timeframe for the formulation of the scheme and the rule, and there is also no provision for penalty for non-compliance. Moreover, the Act is not integrated with urban planning, he pointed out.
A Parliamentary standing committee on Urban Development in its recent report also flagged these concerns, noting that many provisions of the Act are yet to be implemented by several states and Union territories.
The committee headed by BJP MP Jagdambika Pal observed that many cities are being developed as smart cities or are formulating master plans without taking the problem of street vendors into account, and recommended that the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs should take initiatives for integrating the Street Vendors Act with development mission and urban planning.
The panel also suggested the inclusion of representation of the vendor community in the committee formulating the master plan of a city.
Due to delay in implementation of the Act, most hawkers fail to avail benefits of PM Street Vendor’s AtmaNirbhar Nidhi (PM SVANidhi) scheme, a micro-credit facility of ₹10,000, launched in June 2020, to help street vendors recover losses incurred due to COVID-19 induced lockdown.
Only 11 per cent hawkers could avail the loan, according to a recent survey conducted by the Indo Global Social Service Society (IGSSS), a civil society organisation working with informal workers and settlements.
One of the reasons cited for the poor response for the scheme is that most hawkers do not have proper identification such as vendor certificates and vendor ID cards, which local municipalities are required to issue under the 2014 Act after doing proper survey of the hawkers’ population.
The IGSSS survey found that only 25 per cent of the hawkers have all those documents.
“In the absence of these identification documents, the hawkers are facing problems in getting Letter of Recommendation (LoR), an important document that facilitates the loan process, from their local municipal corporation,” said Sandip Verma, a hawker leader from New Delhi.
“Around 85 per cent of those who have applied for the prime minister’s credit scheme do not have an LOR,” the IGSSS survey revealed.
The hawker leaders say that for the success of the loan scheme, implementation of the 2014 Act is essential as it would provide legal identity to the hawkers.
Unfortunately, neither the Centre nor the state governments are prioritising the implementation of the Act allegedly because of the pressure from the trader’s lobby.
In the absence of political will to protect the rights of the hawkers, the Act seems to be facing the same fate as that of many other legislations that are now in limbo due to the central government’s pussyfooting on their implementation.
Last month the Centre repealed the three farm laws it had earlier dubbed as essential to reform the country’s farming sector and to double the income of farmers.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, another controversial law the BJP government enacted despite opposition from various quarters, is yet to see the light of the day because the rules for the law are yet to be notified by the Union Home Ministry.
Further, implementation of the four labour codes, passed by the Parliament over a year ago, is also hanging in the balance as only nine states/UTs have finalised draft notifications for rules for the proposed codes.
“Implementation of any law faces hurdles when all stakeholders are not taken into confidence,” said Nabapallab Roy, a Kolkata-based lawyer.