Barriers to Livelihood of Street Vendors

“Lively, diverse, intense cities contain the seeds of their own regeneration, with energy enough to carry over for problems and needs outside themselves.”



In most Indian cities the urban poor survive by working in the informal sector . Poverty and lack of gainful employment in the rural areas and in the smaller towns drive large number of people to the cities for work and livelihood. These people generally possess low skills and lack the level of education required for the better paid jobs in the organized sector. Besides, permanent protected jobs in the organized sector are shrinking; hence even those having requisite skills are unable to find proper employment. Hence, for these people work in the informal sector is the only means for their survival. This has led to a rapid growth of the informal sector in most of the large cities. For the urban poor, hawking/street vending is one of the means of earning a livelihood as it requires less skill and low financial input.

The most frightening experience for the vendors is, the regular eviction carried out by the district or municipal administration. They fear the very sight of the eviction team which is known locally by different names. For example, in Patna, it is called hallagari. Eviction takes a heavy toll on their business since they have to restart the cycle of building up working capital.

Other problems include that most part of their income is taken away from them through extortion. The extortion racket also involves the local goondas and dadas and sometimes in association with local police constables. Cases of rangdari tax and hafta are common. In many cities vendors have to part with substantial money in order to ply their trade. As a result, a large portion of vendor’s income is drained away and he/she is not able to carry on the business with dignity and peace. Voices have been raised against harassment, torture and exploitation by the police/municipal authorities and mafia. These protests have helped the unions in gaining relief such as stopping of evictions, extortion by police and anti-social elements. In most cases, the administration only responds by making cosmetic changes. A holistic approach and a genuine desire to settle matter amicably between all stakeholders has, however, remained elusive.

Interviews of persons involved in this profession.

In order to know more about their lives, 3 street vendors offering different products were interviewed. The given below are the sample question which forms the part of the questionnaire and were asked during the interview.

• How much do you earn per day?

• Kind of occupation they are involved into?

• Is that income sufficient for their family?

• How far is your place of work?

• What is your working hour?


The first person interviewed was a book vendor. His name is Janardhan Pandey. Janardhan Pandey, 53 year old, book vendor is into this trade from past 30 years. He is the sole bread earner for his big family of 7 members, who are completely dependent on him. He deals in selling and purchasing of 2nd hand books as well as 1st hand books & magazines. Usually he sits on his fixed place but sometimes uses push cart to sell books in nearby locality. Earning of Rs. 5000-6000 per month is not sufficient enough for such big family with the heat of inflation. Out of his total income he is forced to pay certain fix amount to police constables as hafta every month for occupying an area on pavements. It’s very difficult to survive in such a small income but somehow they have to manage.


Next vendor interviewed sells flowers, bouquet. His name is Shankar Patil. He is 40 years old uneducated man who started earning at the age of 20 years. His family was into agriculture. After coming to Bombay he started his own business of selling flowers and bouquet. The sale does not remain constant throughout the year as it depends upon festivals and marriage and various other occasions such as friendship day, valentine day etc. On  an average he earns Rs.5000-6000/month which is again not good enough for a family of 4 members. His family completely depends on him; no one from family contributes to the income. He doesn’t have a fixed place to sit.

His day to day activity includes plucking of flowers from various gardens early in the morning, some of them they have planted at their residence. Since the type of product is of perishable nature, he has to sell them of all at the end of the day or next day at whatever price he is getting.

The last vendor interviewed was 62 years old lady selling chewing Tobacco, Cigarette, Beedi, etc. Her name was Sadhvi Gaitonde. She is selling tobacco products from past 40 years sitting at the same place. She sits on pavements on road side near Churchgate station. She earns Rs.3000-4000/day. Out of which she pays some commission to police constable of the police station in this area. She has 15 member family out of 3 others are contributing in the family income. Even then also the total income is not enough to feed the whole family. Since she is not educated, she’s not aware of present laws and because of that sometimes municipality Officers and policemen take undue advantage of it and charge her penalty or fine. She has to provide products on credit to her regular customer who includes labours, peons, taxi drivers, which is even not certain whether she’ll get back her money or will become bad debts.

At last after interviewing these street vendors we can derive conclusion that most part of their income is taken away from them through extortion. The balance is not sufficient for their livelihood.

Legal aspects:

Supreme Court on street vendors

In PYARELAL v. N.D.M.C. case the court said no person has fundamental right to carry on street trading on a public street. The court went so far as to say that no exception could be taken to N.D.M.C. exercise of power to “eradicate the evil”. Thus this case shows that claiming a fundamental right to carry on street trading is wrong path to tread on and this argument is torn apart easily. The strong words used by the courts (“eradicate the evil”) are basically a rebound to that argument.

The Supreme Court in the case of M.A. PAL MOHAMMAD V. R.K. SDARANAGAM has held that the hawker trade, so long as it is regulated in a proper manner could never be a public nuisance. The court has observed that if regulatory measures were introduce, bearing in mind the requirements of the public of free access, hygiene, safety etc., it would benefit both the hawkers and the public at large. If specific plots are allotted and they are confined to those portions, there could be no conceivable objection for such a trade to be carried out, especially when it would provide an honest livelihood for those who have meager capital but desire to carry on trade. The main issue in most of these cases was whether restrictions on hawking was violative of Article 19(1) g of the Constitution which gives the right to carry on any trade or business. This is however subject to sub-clause b) which to impose reasonable restrictions in interests of the general public. In the case of BOMBAY HAWKERS UNION V. BOMBAY MUNICIPAL CORPORATION the Court has referred to a list of recommendations relating to restrictions on hawkers. These include identifying Hawking zones: prohibiting handcarts, any form of permanent structure including tarpaulins, cloth or plastic sheets; restrictions on timings, noise, prohibiting sale of cooked food articles and cut fruits and a precondition that the hawkers should extend full cooperation to Municipal workers as fare as cleaning the streets and managing public agencies are concerned.

Though the judgment of this court in OLGA TELLIS v. BOMBAY MUNICIPAL CORPORATION is not directly relevant as in, it actually deals with the slum dwellers, the observations made by the court regarding the forcible eviction, right to livelihood, etc. would have definite impact on the hawkers and vendors as well. The court held that eviction would lead to deprivation of livelihood and thus deprivation of life. It went on to say further that no person has the right to encroach on footpaths, pavements or any other place earmarked for a public purpose. Thus it says that forcible eviction is not unreasonable, but that it must be according to procedure established by the law. It says, “Procedure prescribed by the law for depriving a person of his right to life must conform to the norms of justice and fair play”. Thus the importance of this judgment lies in the fact that it recognizes that eviction affects the right of life and livelihood of poor people and thus the procedure followed such as a notice has to be necessarily served unless there are extreme circumstances. Despite this the court still failed to the needful. As it failed to curb the discretionary powers of the Commissioner to serve notice.

In the case of SODAN SINGH v. NDMC this court held that Right to carry on trade is not part of Article 21 but Article 19 (1) (g) and can be reasonably restricted under Article 19(6). Hawking on roadsides falls within the “occupation, trade or business” in Article 19(1) (g). All streets and roads are vested in the state but it holds it as a trustee and the members of the public are beneficiaries entitled to use it as a right. Therefore the municipality has full authority to permit hawkers and squatters on the sidewalk wherever at the municipality considers it convenient under the municipalities Act. But there cannot be a fundamental right vested in a citizen to occupy any place on the pavement where he can engage in trading business. Nor can the hawkers assert a fundamental right to occupy a particular place permanently on the pavement. If the circumstances are appropriate and a small trader can do some business for the personal gain on the pavement to the advantage of the general public and without any discomfort or annoyance to others, there can be no objection. Hawkers cannot be permitted to squat on every road. Factors like the width of the road, security etc. has to be considered. Licenses must be granted periodically but not daily.

In the case of MUNICIPAL CORP. OF DELHI v. GURNAM KUAR the municipal corporation said that it could evict the hawkers if the due procedure of the law is followed and that there was no binding obligation on their part to provide alternate arrangement. The court affirmed this android that the principle of Jamaica Das could not be applied. The obiter dicta was also not binding and moreover in that case the judgment was passed by the consent of the parties.

In GAINDA RAM v. MCD case court looked into some of the recommendations of the Thareja committee regarding allotment of sites. The main grievance of the hawkers is that MCD committee is allocating space on the proximity from the residence basis which rendered their right redundant. The court held that the committee should obtain the preference of the zones from the hawkers where they would like to be accommodated and then suit their purpose as far as possible without increasing the number of slots in one zone.

The Apex court, however, said a hawker’s fundamental right to do business on a public street was subject to reasonable restrictions under Article 19(6) of the Constitution. Noting that the housing and urban poverty alleviation ministry had already drafted a Model Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Bill 2009, the court said the appropriate government should take steps to translate the bill into law. It was also made clear that until such a law is enacted, hawkers must go by the rules framed by municipal bodies and approved by the Supreme Court.


Features of the National Policy, 2009

The National Policy recognizes 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. The National Policy recommends that the municipal authorities in the cities provide for 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.

Other important initiatives under the National Policy include providing access to credit, skill development, housing and capacity building, health care benefits, and pension schemes for street vendors. However, if compared with the draft policy of 2004, the revised document of 2009 makes a significant omission with regard to the protection of street vendors from the existing repressive Municipal laws.

The National Policy, 2009 introduces three zonal categories, namely, “Restriction-free Vending Zones,” “Restricted Vending Zones,” and “No-Vending Zones.” These are central to many other key elements of the policy such as the pivotal function of the TVCs, the process of registration and record-making, and the modalities of eviction. The National Policy declares that one of the pivotal functions of the TVCs will be to come up with city-specific zoning laws on the basis of consensus among stakeholders. In demarcating vending zones, the TVCs will maintain a proper balance between the usable space and the number of vendors without compromising the issues of traffic, public health, and environment. For this, a digitized demographic database (archive) will be created in each city by trained professionals on street vendors. This will also help the TVCs to issue registration certificates, identify the trespassers, curb spatial and other aberrations, collect taxes, provide civic facilities, and introduce welfare schemes. This means that at least in the context of the National Policy, legalization involves the privileging of some activities as legitimate and branding of some others as illegitimate, deserving punishment and eviction. What makes street vending simultaneously legitimate and illegitimate? It is again predominantly the spatial laws, a certain obedience to it makes street vending a constitutionally guaranteed right of the poor to eke out a living, while a violation of it leads to fines, confiscation, and eviction.

The Union Cabinet in 2010 approved the proposal by the Ministry of Labour and Employment for extending the insurance scheme under Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojna (RSBY) to street vendors whose number according to a 2001 report is over 42lakhs. RSBY presently covers BPL families only. Street vendors will now enjoy the benefits of cashless-based health insurance scheme. The government proposed to cover all registered street vendor under RSBY by 2013-14. The cover extends to 5 member of the family, which includes the head of the household, spouse and up to 3 dependents. According to the labour and Employment Ministry, till October 15, 2010, 27 states were in the process of implementing the scheme. The scheme has been operationalised in 24 states with more than 1.95 Crore smart cards having been issued to more than 7 Crore persons.”


Analysis of the status of the profession and of the workers;

Social Status:- Every social system must cater to the needs of its members to enable them to survive; it must have effective means of allocating and distributing resources. The vendors provide a wide array of goods and commodities to the urban populace at reasonable prices and convenient locations. The type of goods they sell makes an interesting study – from daily needs like vegetables, fruits, fish, meat and snacks to occasional needs like flowers and readymade garments. A survey conducted by the Indian Institute of Health and Hygiene counted 300 types of eatables sold by the hawkers of Calcutta. It would be hard to find an urban Indian who doesn’t purchase something from a vendor. The middle and lower class consumer specifically prefers to purchase from them, though even well-off citizens purchase many commodities given reasonable prices. Vending has been a profession since time immemorial, with street vendors an integral part of our urban history and culture. Shopping and marketing, in a traditional Indian sense, has primarily been informal. Social interaction is integral to Indian markets in contrast to the mechanized and sterile concept of shopping favored by modern market and super market structures. Socially not only street vendors but also the regular customers get attached with each other. Even the customer prefers buying from their regular vendor. Out of this social relation sometimes they provide their goods on credit also.

Economic Status:-In India, studies show that 29% of the population generates 60% of the GDP. The larger part of which is from age group of 16-35 years. A normal day of a vendor starts early in the morning with the day to day purchase. The marketing place is invariably far from his residence. Bringing large sacks of goods loading & unloading them again in a rickshaw cart is a tedious job. Arranging, cleaning, sorting, weighing and dealing with customers is not easy. Hawkers are on the move from one lane to another irrespective of the heat, wind, rain and cold. Calling out loud to attract buyers, consumes time and energy.

Many studies indicate that the informal or unorganized sector accounts for close to 90% of the workforce in India. Majority of Indian’s are self-employed. In case of the street vendors, they account for more than 10 million of the workforce. Many of the street vendors in Mumbai today are actually the mill-workers who lost their jobs after the mills were closed down or either who earlier worked in factories and industrial units but lost their jobs after the liberalization process started. Talk to any street vendor in any city and you will find that some of them in fact have been street vendors since two or three generations.

Cultural Status:- Street vending is the oldest means of earning livelihood. It started with the inception of civilization, where people started exchanging goods with either goods or service, the process is commonly known as ‘Barter System’. The street vendors during that period were more of mobile nature. They also started evolving with the human beings and later both mobile & stationery form of street vendors came into practice. The same is still followed. Our street vendors, all 10 million or more of them, are part of the colour of India. They provide the magical allure, the sights, the smells and the sounds that have inspired zillions of foreign writers to India. They produce the colour of the East, which countless Hollywood and Bollywood directors have used as backdrops. They are in every ‘Raj’ film and book, and we make use of them when we make ‘Incredible India’ ad films to draw tourists and big bucks into our country.


Analysis of National Policy on Urban Street Vendors, 2009;

While most of the states agreed to bring the street vendors in the fold of some sort of social security mechanism, they differed in defining the non-vending zones and in determining the composition of the TVCs. Much of current discussions on the National Policy in the policy and activist circles in the last couple of years have been centered on two important issues. First, many street vendors associations have questioned the limited possibilities of stake-holder participation in the TVCs that are, in many states, heavily populated by high level state executives. Second, concerned activist groups have also questioned the city specific legal frameworks under which any street vendor policy is to work. In the state of West Bengal, for example, street vendors are implicated in the repressive Municipal Corporation Act (1951 and 1997). Section 371 declares that street vending is a non bailable and cognizable offense. Recently, the National Advisory Council (NAC) came up with a “Note on Recommendations for a Central Law for Protection of Livelihood Rights and Social Security of Street Vendors.” The NAC’s note aptly pointed out that in order to implement the National Policy, 2009, the existing legal provisions under the Indian Penal Code and other municipal laws in various cities would have to be amended in favor of street vendors.

The National Policy does not provide a guideline for the states to handle surplus labor force in the sector. For this reason, the National Policy should be linked with a larger employment generation scheme led by the state. Again, in the absence of any clearly specified law safeguarding the vendors, the implementation of spatial restrictions and the registration mechanism will give the governments an informal flexibility to favor powerful lobbies and local-level regime functionaries. This may cause a series of brutal internal displacements.

The draft of the National Policy was more spatial than social. It does not, for example, pay attention to the internal hierarchies within the street vending sector. It does ensure that more than 40 percent of the members of TVCs are from the street vendors associations. But, it remains silent on the fact that only a meager proportion of street vendors in India fall under the fold of unions. Who will represent such a large number of non-unionized street vendors in the TVCs? The National Policy, then, seeks to institutionalize a certain form of participatory exclusion.

For e.g. In 2010, the state of West Bengal came up with the “West Bengal Street Vendor Policy” that proposes to declare the one hundred meter radius of all busy street crossings in the city of Kolkata as non-vending zones along with the immediate vicinities of hospitals, schools, colleges, offices, and heritage buildings. It is arguable that such a statement in the policy document deserves close analysis and strong public debate. The idea of a non-vending zone is premised only on the perceived connection between street vendors and traffic congestion in the street crossings. The argument is that since street vendors concentrate only at the crossings, pedestrians feel obstructed and they leave safe and secure pavements to walk on the streets. As a result, they become vulnerable to accidents and their movement impedes vehicular traffic. Pedestrians walking on the streets also show greater propensity to cross roads, ignoring traffic rules. The panacea to this impasse in urban life is to declare pavement hawking illegal near densely populated crossings and transit centers. The National Policy seems to lack the common sense that it is congestion and density of human activities that cause street vendors’ presence in the proximity of crossroads and not the other way around. In fact, during a field survey in twenty-two 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), pavement vendors were observed to have played a marginal role in causing congestion. It was additionally observed that the presence of several other factors unrelated to street vending such as car parking areas in the vicinity of the crossing, auto rickshaw stands, road repair works, narrow road and pavement spaces compared to the extent of traffic, existing retail shops encroaching pavement spaces, and instinctive violation of traffic rules by pedestrians and automobiles caused states of anarchy in the surroundings of the crossings.


Indian authorities can learn from their Malaysian counterparts in Kuala Lumpur about how to include street vending in the process of urban planning. For example, Kuala Lumpur’s proposal of making food courts compulsory in high-rise buildings can be a good way for our authorities to emulate in leading the vendors towards a legal status and offering them a permanent space to sell.

In addition, the police should be given better training and better pay packets, along with establishing effective accountability in their functioning, if they are to act as an instrument of law and order, rather than promote crime. They, too, need help in restoring their self respect, so that they do not behave like thugs and looters. Its urged that local associations to join the vendors to form Nagrik Sahyog Samitis to curb the abuse of power by police and bring municipal officials to account. Instead of treating them as a “public nuisance”, services of vendors should be given due recognition.

A group in IIT Delhi has studied the space requirement for Delhi’s vendors and found that all the existing vendors can be easily accommodated in the available space, provided the city authorities are willing to plan space allocation in an efficient and rational manner. If workable, this approach could be used to transform the street vending scene in other urban centres including Mumbai as well.

With the coming of Departmental store trend/pattern in India, has obviously benefitted the Indian economy, specifically middle class family but at the same time eaten up the major part of the income of Street vendor. In order to safe guard the income of street vendors, government should restrict the sale of particulars goods and reserve them only for street vendors. So as to keep both the fields operative and productive.


The informal sector, and within this sector the role of street vendors, is an economically significant one. For too long have these performers have been denied of their rightful place in the sun. Street vending must get the dignity it deserves for the role it has in keeping the cycle of our local economy moving. It is an engine and the only one of wealth creation that is available for India’s poor yet agile millions. And it is high time that our planners do something concrete so that these vital contributors of Indian economy can go about their work without the fear or insecurity of suffering extortion and abuse. Generally speaking, street vendor’s legal status can act as a bridge between their employment conditions and the range of employment risks they face. A vendor with a fixed structure in a designated market, for example, may be more likely to hold a license or permit, and in turn would be less exposed to certain kinds of risks. Likewise, a street vendor who works as an employee selling a particular kind of product, such as newspapers, may be better protected by law and therefore less vulnerable. Obtaining legal status of some kind is therefore a key demand of street trading organizations in many cities.

“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”



• Oberay A. and Chadaw G., (2001) Urban Informal Sector in India, Issues and Policy Options.

• Jacobs Jane, (1961) The Death and Life of Great American Cities.













• (United Nations Service Trade Database)











• The Hindu –Business Line, September 28, 2011.

• Geetam Tiwari, ‘Encroachers or Service Providers?’ Seminar (New Delhi) No 491, July 31, 2000.