Gujarat ban on non-vegetarian food vending illogical, harmful

ban on non-vegetarian food vending
The ban on non-vegetarian food vending in major municipalities of Gujarat lacks any plausible reason and endangers livelihood of street vendors.

Ban on non-vegetarian food vending: Recently, several municipalities in Gujarat imposed a ban on street vendors selling non-vegetarian food. This ban will prohibit vendors selling eggs and non-vegetarian food at open places and public roads in Ahmedabad. Eggs and meat products are not sold in Ahmedabad city within 100 metres of schools, colleges, community halls, and temples from 16th November.

The ban does not apply to hotels and residential houses. The immediate impact would be loss of thousands of livelihoods of informal workers, including self-employed and own account tiny enterprises. Vendor Associations have protested against the move, demanding immediate implementation of the Street Vendors Act, 2014.

The stated reason behind the imposition of ban is that street food vendors congest busy areas, leading to traffic snarls and squalor on the roads. In fact, the relations between the municipal authorities and street vendors have always been acrimonious. Because of their visibility in public spaces, street vendors face multiple governance restrictions in the form of municipal authorities, police, and street level officials. Vendors face everyday harassment, confiscation of goods and hostility by the municipal and state officials. Street Vending Act 2014 can provide the requisite guidelines in this regard.

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Ban on non-vegetarian food vending violation of tights

The Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act was passed in 2014 to recognize and protect the rights of the street vendors. The town vending committees (TVC) is one of the most important authorities under the Act. The Act divides vendors into stationary, street, and mobile vendors. Section 12 and 13 of the Act lay down the rights of the vendors.

Section 12 of the Act says every street vendor will have the right to carry on his/her business according to the terms and conditions of the vending certificate, but this right cannot be exercised in areas specified as no vending zone. Section 13 of the Act lays down the rights of street vendors for a new site or area on relocation.

It states that every street vendor who holds a certificate for street vending will have the right to carry out vending activity in the area allotted by the local authority in consultation with the town vending committee in case of relocation. Section 2(1)(m) defines a town vending committee as a body constituted by the government under Section 22 of the Act. However, there are many instances where town vending committees are not formed.

There is also a National Policy on Street Vendors (2004). The National Policy recognises street vending as an integral part of the urban retail trade and distribution system. It aims at giving street vendors a legal status. Each street vendor will be registered under the supervision of a town vending committee (TVC) headed by the respective municipal commissioner and given an identity card with a code number and category.

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The national policy recommends that the municipal authorities in the cities provide the street vendors a range of civic services such as provisions for solid waste disposal, public toilets, electricity, water, and storage facilities. In exchange, the TVCs will collect a registration fee and a monthly maintenance charge, depending on the location and type of business of the vendor.

The 2004 draft policy was revised in 2009. The National Policy 2009 introduces three zonal categories: Restriction-free Vending Zones, Restricted Vending Zones, and No-Vending Zones. It gives power to the TVC to declare a particular area a no-vending zone. This policy is more spatial than social. Most of the states agreed to bring the street vendors in the fold of some sort of social security mechanism.

However, there was no consensus in defining the non-vending zones and in determining the composition of the TVCs. It is stipulated that 40% members of TVC should be from street vendors association. However, street vendors do not have such collectives in many places and concerns of street vendors are not adequately reflected in the deliberations of TVCs.

The West Bengal Urban Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Rules 2018 band hawkers from doing business on roads and required to leave two-thirds of every pavement they occupy free for walking. Each municipal body will have a town vending committee to identify and issue licences to hawkers.

The town vending committee will draw up a list of vending and no-vending zones. A no-vending zone would typically include bus stops, small pavements and narrow streets/ lanes. However, any resident or visitor to Kolkata will testify that such restrictions are hardly followed. But the fact that such restrictions exist on paper, can cause trouble for street vendors operating in the streets of Kolkata.

The rationale behind non-vending zone is based on the perceived connection between street vendors and traffic congestion in the busy street crossings. The argument is that since street vendors occupy pavements, pedestrians feel obstructed and they walk on the streets, causing road accidents and traffic snarls. The policy of introduction of no-hawking zone around street crossings are based on such arguments. However, there is no documentary evidence to support this presumption.

A field survey in 22 earmarked crossings in Kolkata for non-vending zones, organized by the Urban Research and Policy Program (URPP) of the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), revealed that the pavement vendors were observed to have played a marginal role in causing congestions. It was further observed that several other factors such as car parking areas nearby the crossing, auto rickshaw stands, road repair work, narrow road and pavement space, retail shops encroaching pavement space, violation of traffic rules by pedestrians and vehicles were responsible for congestion and road accidents.

In this context, another important issue is that street vending is an important source of livelihood for urban informal space. Employment scenario is already very precarious. Pandemic and resultant lockdown led to significant contraction of the in economy and the country witnessed unprecedented levels of job losses during the last one-and-half years.

Even before the pandemic struck, unemployment rate had reached a 45-year high. Whatever new jobs that were created during the last two decades, were mostly in informal sector. Employment elasticity of formal sector, particularly that of formal manufacturing sector, has been extremely low. Street vendors are a very important constituent of urban informal labour force.

Decent growth during the first one-and-half decades of this millennium did not translate into employment generation. Some even call this jobless growth. Further, occupational distribution across sectors did not keep pace with the corresponding changes in sectoral distribution of national income. Contribution of primary sector has declined to about 14% of the GDP but around 40% of labour force is still tied with the primary sector.

This implies huge under employment and disguised unemployment in the primary sector. Workers released from primary sector could not be absorbed in the secondary and tertiary sectors. Lewis Model failed to operate in the Indian context. All these led to preponderance of informal labour in India. Urban street vending is an important and visible manifestation of such informalisation.

There are no reliable estimates of the number of street vendors in India. A study by Martha Chen and G Raveendran estimates that 11% of the total urban workforce across India is into street vending. A WIEGO report estimates that 2% of any city’s population are street vendors. Moreover, street vendors provide low-cost sustenance to numerous other fellow informal workers in the same urban space. Vendors generally forge and nourish social and economic networks to survive in difficult conditions without any support from the state. Such vendors do not have access to any institutional social security instruments.

Tightening of street vending laws and creation of no-hawking restrictions by urban bodies increase the vulnerability of street hawkers. Ban or similar restrictions as imposed by Gujarat urban bodies are an insensitive response to prevailing labour market conditions. We have failed to provide decent livelihood opportunities for a majority of our workforce. They eke out a living on the fringes. Snatching that opportunity is totally unjustifiable. Also, in the latest instance, banning only non-vegetarian food vending defies any plausible logic. It’s not about propriety, but a question of minimum subsistence.

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Dr Kingshuk Sarkar is an associate professor at the Goa Institute of Management. He has worked as a labour administrator with the government of West Bengal. He earlier served as a faculty member at VV Giri National Labour Institute, Noida and NIRD, Hyderabad. Views expressed are personal.