By R. Balashankar
No political vision statement is complete unless it addresses the last man on the street. NDA'sis the first government in the country, which has sought to offer a package to the street vendor. Vajpayee has given a Socialist content to reform rhetoric.
The urban street vendor has been an integral part of Indian economy. No survey however was taken up and we have no sure account of their total number. But, street vending as a profession has been in existence in India even before we started counting history.
Municipal staff, policemen and even panchayat officials harass the street vendor. His makeshift vegetable spread, eateries and pushcarts, have often been mercilessly toppled and towed away by the street guards. No plan document or economic development roadmap took note of this segment of Indian economy, ever. It is not even clear if urban street vendors, who are self-employed, are part of the over 369 million employed in the unorganised sector. Most probably not. This constitutes 93 per cent of the 397 million work force in the country, of which only 28 million are in the organised sector.
The National Policy for Urban Street Vendor, adopted by the Vajpayee government last week is, in fact, one of the most significant steps towards creating a welfare state. That this section received the attention of the national government is in itself commendable.
Urban vending is not only a source of employment but it also provides affordable services to the majority of urban population. Their contribution is not measured by the scales of economic growth.
Considered illegal entities, subjected to continuous exploitation by the police and civic authorities they are always denied their due credit and share. They create their employment and substantially contribute to the economic growth of our national life but they remain poor and insecure.
For the first time, the Vajpayee government has focused its attention on street vendors and recognised them as part of the formal system. Where their interests did not engage concern in the town planning and formulation of municipal policies and where it led to disharmony and even law and order problems, the NDA government has drafted a total action plan at the national level. In reality, this should have been one of the primary concerns of the state governments.
It is not that street vendor has caught the attention of the NDA government in the election year. A lot of deliberation and home work has gone into it. The Urban Development ministry, under Jagmohan and later Anantha Kumar and now, Bandaru Dattatreya has been working on the policy for the last three years. The ministry organised a national workshop on street vendors in collaboration with NGO, Self Employed Women Association (SEWA) in New Delhi in May 2001. The workshop recommended the setting up of a task force, which held three meetings and a draft National Policy was formulated.
The main focus of this policy was to ensure that the vendor finds recognition to his contribution and take up their rehabilitation as a major plank for urban poverty alleviation. The policy envisages making permanent built up structure or mobile stall, offer them pushcarts, and promote a supportive environment.
The basic objective of this policy is to give street vendors legal status by making necessary laws and providing legitimate hawking zones, regulatory licenses and promote street vendors? organisation.
In short, the vendors will have social security with access to pension, insurance, and credit facility. The police and municipal authorities will no more harass and throw their things away. The state governments have been asked to include street vendors in their city plans and ensure institutional arrangements, legislative framework and comprehensive survey to build an adequate data base on street vendors.