New Delhi, Sept. 6: The goons and police can hang their heads in shame. Together, for once.
The Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha today with overwhelming support, with almost every speaker narrating how the police and criminals harass hawkers.
The debate wove a tragic tale of exploitation and neglect of the poorest “entrepreneurs” of society while powerful support systems were available for big companies.
The speakers said street vendors scratch a livelihood in the most trying circumstances, suffer humiliation and torture, and yet provide services to the toiling masses at minimum profits without any government support and social security.
They explained how vendors take loans from money lenders at interest rates ranging from 10 to 25 per cent, lose 30 to 40 per cent of their income to bribes and end up the day with less than the minimum wages for unskilled workers.
“Enough is enough,” said Girija Vyas, the minister for housing and urban poverty alleviation as she piloted the bill while admitting that the government should have intervened much earlier to give succour to the “voiceless and the most vulnerable section of society”.
“The daily struggle, police torture, extortion, fear of displacementů and no support. This should end,” she said and stressed the need for awareness campaigns and role of civil society in effective implementation of the legislation.
The minister said every hawker would get protection under the law, besides identity cards and licences after a survey conducted every five years.
Vyas argued that the bill addressed the vital issues of insurance and credit. “While a chunk of the funds under the National Urban Livelihoods Mission will be earmarked for them, the government will also see to it they get banking facilities.” Such vendors constitute around 2 per cent of the population.
The members raised several other concerns. These included drinking water and toilet facilities, availability of vending zones in thickly populated areas where their business remains viable and insurance for their wares that are exposed to vagaries of weather, in addition to housing and healthcare for their families.
Demands were also made for a notice of at least a month before eviction, time-bound issue of licences and a uniform legal mechanism for protection of rights.
With the hawkers’ numbers likely to swell as traditional means of livelihood are shrinking in villages and industrialisation is slowing, most members requested Vyas to change a provision that allowed children above 14 to get licences for vending.
They said the age limit should be raised to 18 and argued the existing provision diluted Right to Education law that guarantees schooling till 14.
They also described the exclusion of hawkers in the railways as a major infirmity in the bill but the minister promised to address that in consultation with the railway ministry.
The bill introduces the concept of a town vending committee, with representatives of the market, vendors, municipal authorities, police, resident welfare associations and NGOs, to regulate vending and issue licences.
Successive central governments had shied away from framing such a legislation by claiming street vending was a state subject. But the Supreme Court repeatedly nudged the Centre after which the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council drafted a model legislation, though some states did come up with their own laws.