All traders both mobile and immobile without a permanent ‘selling station’ in urban spaces may be defined as urban street vendors. Urban street vendors are more often than not symbols of urban poverty and unemployment. The lack of a conducive environment for setting up small enterprises results in proliferation of multitudes of street vendors offering all kinds of products in metropolitan areas. They may be conveniences because of the range of products that they offer at lower prices and in informal spaces. But they are often seen as an obstruction to movement and a reason for traffic congestions in overcrowded areas. Section 283 of the Indian Penal Code and Section 34 of the Indian Police Act very well enables the police to remove obstructions to public movement. Street vendors often fall victim to that.
A survey in 1999-2000 by the National Association of Street Vendors in India (NASVI), a non-profit network of development professionals and non-governmental organizations estimated a total of around 13 million street vendors in the country. In a country where 93% of employment is informal, it is important to identify the different kinds of informal unemployment to provide a basic social security net to the workers that are in the sectors.
The Supreme Court in Sodhan Singh Vs NMDC (1989), invoked Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution in the case of street vendors.
“All citizens have a right to practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business.”
The Supreme Court in another landmark case, Sudhir Madan & others Vs MCD (2006), upheld that even though street hawkers infringe on the average citizen’s right to pathway, it is the duty of the concerned Authority to provide space for the hawkers.
Street hawkers near the Padmanabha Swamy Temple
A National Policy on Urban Street Vendors was first formulated after the study of small and medium enterprises in India by the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganized Sector (NCEUS) in 2004. The mandate of the policy was to ‘formalize’ urban street vendors that often encroach public and private spaces. The Street Vendors Policy 2004, National Policy on Urban Street Vendors 2009 and the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Bill 2012 all call for legitmisation of the urban street vendors.
The National Urban Policy on Street Vendors 2009 differed from that of 2004 in such a way that it called for each municipal authority to formulate a Town Vending Committee (TVC) chaired by the Commissioner/Chief Executive Officer that engages in “a participatory approach to planning, organizing and regulation of street vending activities”. The TVCs may be at the ward level, the CEO at the municipal level and an official at the state level. It also suggests inclusion of hawking zones and weekend markets in the Master Plans, Zonal Plans and Local Area Plans of the corporation.
In August 2011, there was a plan to rehabilitate hawkers in the Trivandrum city area. The corporation was also in the process of setting up mobile stalls at various parts of the city. The beneficiaries would only have to incur 10% of the cost. In the same month, under the Suvidha scheme, mobile carts were to be provided to the vendors. But it was called off due to a dispute between private agencies and the corporation during the tendering process. The hawking zones and identity cards were not allotted either. It is yet to take off two and a half years after it was originally planned. I am curious to see the patterns in the utilization of the ‘Poverty Social Fund’ of the Kerala Sustainable Urban Development Project (KSUDP).
The issue of urban street vendors is a big concern because the corporation has been steam rolling vending stalls. This has threatened over 500 hawkers in the city. The problem is that in spite of a National Policy on Urban Street Vendors in place, there is apathy on the part of civic bodies to act on it. Many hawkers have been forcefully evicted, but alternative hawking zones or licenses have not been provided to them. The Chief Town Planner considered the possibility of weekly market avenues for vendors on a first-come-first serve basis and hawking zones in places like Manaveeyam Veedhi where licenses could be given to selected vendors through a transparent process in August 2013. However, it doesn’t look like it has been implemented.There are some cases of noticeable transplantation of hawkers to the Amazhinjam area, but it remains to be seen whether they have all been rehabilitated.
According to the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), the anti-vendor stand of the prominent bureaucrats including the Collector is the reason why the vendors are being evicted. Big shops like Kalyan, Bheema and Pothys have cropped up all over the city in the last two years, but the legality of their structures are never questioned. The Road Fund Board and the Collector’s office are on an eviction drive based on a High Court Order that banned the use of flux boards in the City. A minor statement in the Order apparently also includes urban street vendors that obstruct the pathways and roads. The Suvidha scheme introduced 2 and a half years ago to rehabilitate illegal street hawkers into licensed hawking zones with subsidized mobile carts never quite took off because of an argument in tendering process with two private companies. Now it seems to be slowly picking up with 8 vendors supposed to be allocated mobile carts on the 23rd December, 2013. The apathy of the bureaucrats and civic bodies towards a section of its people’s right to livelihood is the reason for this coarse set of actions all in a bid to complete city beautification projects and megastructures of consumerist paradise.
National Urban Policy on Street Vendors 2004
National Urban Policy on Street Vendors 2009
Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Bill 2012
‘Hawking Zones to be developed’ by T. Nandakumar, The Hindu, August 22, 2011,
‘Bank guarantee issue puts the break on Suvidha scheme’, The Hindu, July 1, 2013,
‘Fighting for the right to vend on the street’, The Hindu, July 20, 2013,
‘Legal framework sought to govern street vending’, Kaavya Pradeep Kumar, The Hindu, August 19, 2013,