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November 22, 2012

Reclaiming the City for Street Vendors: The Hindu

The Hindu : FEATURES / SUNDAY MAGAZINE : Reclaiming the city for street vendors

‎"Only the poor are left out.

Vendors depend on an estimated two percent of urban land, but these sites are mostly legally barred to them....The urban plans provide for malls and covered shopping arcades, but the imagination of town planners and officials excludes all shops which are run by the poor, for the poor.

An important central law is currently before Parliament, which promises to correct these inequities. Laudably the law affirms that its purpose is not just to regulate street vending, but also to protect the livelihood rights of street vendors. But in practice, the major part of the Bill is devoted to registration and licensing, and the system that the Bill proposes is still opaque and confusing. It places the burden on persons who wish to vend to apply for registration. There are many dangers inherent in this. Municipalities may establish preconditions such as domicile, they may require documents which poor street vendors will be unable to produce, and they may declare high value current vending markets as ‘non-vending’ zones. It is not clear that all or most registered vendors will automatically be eligible for licenses.

The draft law demonstrates once again how difficult it is to free the livelihoods of poor people from the stranglehold of the bureaucracy. In effect, all the law does is to give the right to a vendor to vend if she or he has a certificate of registration; and this certificate depends on the scheme prepared by the local body, prescribing where vendors may run their businesses, and in what numbers. In material terms, how does this change the situation in which vendors find themselves today?

This can change only if the law mandates that most vendors are registered, and that vending zones and vending capacities are decided through a transparent process, by a broad-based agency which includes representatives of vendors.

In the end, what this entails is an entirely new imagination of the city, which includes the masses of urban poor people as legitimate and legal partners. And, indeed, it entails a new imagination of economic growth, powered not just by the profits of large transnational companies, but the enterprise of millions of the working poor.

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