On Friday, R Murugan, who has been a street vendor in Kodambakkam for over a decade, had a reason to smile. The Lok Sabha passed a legislation that finally gives legitimacy to lakhs of street vendors like him. The Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2012, was unanimously passed in the Lok Sabha, the first legislation that has endorsed roadside vending as a legitimate economic activity and offers protection for them.
“This means an end to ‘mamool’ that I have to pay every week to men in kakhi. I spent about Rs 1,000 from my meager earning to grease their palms. If our place on the roads is legitimised, maybe I can refuse to pay the policemen without the fear of being evicted,” says Murugan. Although roadside vendors are ubiquitous in every city, so far they have not been recognised under law. After intensive campaigning by NGOs working for welfare of the street vendors, the law was finally framed by the government.
“In 2006, the Union government framed a national policy on urban street vendors. However, the policy was not taken serious. But now, as a law is coming into force, we hope the livelihood of vendors would be secure,” says activist R Geetha of Unorganised Workers Federation.
The Act also attempts to regularise roadside vendors by putting in place a licencing mechanism. The first step would be formation of the Town Vending Committees in every urban area that would be responsible for the implementation of the Act.
According to the Act, those vendors who are licenced by the committees cannot be evacuated by any government authority.
However, the activist stresses that the trickiest part is the proper implementation of the Act and the need to keep political considerations away when allocating spaces for the vendors. However, the Act does not cover vendors on trains and railway land.
“We would be happy if we are offered legitimate space, rather than running our business always in fear of being evacuated. But transporting goods is a much bigger problem that vendors like me face. Conductors often do not allow us to board government buses. It would be good if the government makes some provision for us to carry luggage without in a better manner,” said Kamalaveni, a roadside vendor in Choolaimedu.