Street Vendors: Traffic Hazard or Service Providers?

The ubiquitous presence of street vendors in our society dates back to the medieval times. Street vendors form a market much different from the retail world. Millions of people who cannot afford retail prices depend on street vendors for all their needs. This democratic market is run by the poor and for the poor. In India, more than 10 million people earn their daily bread from this profession.  They operate from sidewalks, pavements, streets, public spaces, and even from the front of our homes. They sell virtually everything at the most affordable prices. Most popular products include fruits, vegetables, confectioneries, snacks, ice-creams, kitchen utensils, toys, electronics, clothes, flowers, books, magazines, newspapers, common medicines et cetera.

Women and young children constitute a major part of this community. The low investment and flexible hours make this a suitable choice for poor women and children. Most street vendors belong to the backward classes with little or no education at all. They work at a very small scale but provide a consistent and valuable service to the whole community.

Now, the municipal bodies, capitalist organisations or the high society profiteers who don’t posses any empathy for these vendors might say that this community is rather a menace than a service. They term street vending as an illegal practice and a disturbing aberration to the urban society. They class these utility stations for the common man under encroachments which block the torrent of automobiles and vehicles of the city. They believe them to be dirty spots on the face of their cities. To some extent they are right, but a war between the two extreme classes of the society is not the most intelligent option.

Our society has always taken these street vendors for granted. Street vending contributes to a major part of the country’s GDP but still it is clubbed under an informal or unorganised enterprise. They utilise shrewd market techniques, innovative methods to satisfy the Indian customer, yet they are treated as puny peddlers. It is about time we recognise these vendors as a legitimate workforce of the society. They need recognition for proper regulation in the favour of the whole society. Apart from recognition, there is also a need for a separate body that can act as a safeguard as well as a watchdog for the street vendors.

This body can also look after the registration and licensing of the street vendors. In this way the strength of this huge workforce can be regulated. This body should also go beyond mere regulation of street vendors and should also look after their welfare and development. This body may also act as a link between the municipal bodies and the street vending community. Special zones can be allocated by the body for vending whereas busy areas can be kept sans vendors for smooth movement of people and vehicles.

Apart from this, the policies and laws in this regard are quite complicated. There is a strong need to lay down a set of policies for the street vendors, so that they can be acquainted with their rights and limits. A periodical arrangement for an intelligent dialogue between civic authorities, shopkeepers, residents associations and vendors can bring out dynamic and innovative solutions. These dialogues can also make the nature of the cooperation and effectiveness of policies and laws more articulate. The street vendors form an exquisite entity of our country. It relates to a self sufficient society standing against all odds, which reflect the spirit of India. Let’s keep this spirit alive.

Rupali Banerjee

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