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41 years of Indian street vendors’ struggle wins legislative victory

27 February, 2014A bill to protect the rights of urban street vendors, including against police harassment, adopted by the Upper House (Rajya Sabha) of Parliament in India.

Indian street vendors and their IndustriALL-affiliated trade union SEWA are celebrating the new law as the result of 41 years of struggle. The bill was endorsed by the Rajya Sabha (Upper House) of Parliament on 19 February 2014. The bill regulates and protects the livelihood of street vendors. Both houses of Parliament unanimously passed the resolution.

A hunger strike by SEWA in New Delhi from 16-19 February and last minute lobbying and advocating efforts of SEWA finally resulted in the passing of the bill. It is a historic and one of the biggest achievements for the Street Vendors of India.

In India 2 to 2.5 % of the urban population earn their living through street vending. These street vendors provide essential services to the people at large. They are self earners and earn their living without proving a burden on the Government. Still the vendors are misperceived as illegal encroachers, they are beaten up, their goods are confiscated, summons and warrants are issued against them.

The journey for ‘Rights of Street Vendors’ began in 1972:

  • 1981: SEWA filed a case in the Supreme Court of India recognizing the rights of the vendors of Manekchok Natural Market.
  • 1988: Shri Elaben Bhatt, Founder of SEWA introduced a Resolution for the Statutory Policy that recommended a bill on the status of Street Vendors in the Indian Parliament.
  • 2001: SEWA with Ministry of Urban Development organizes a workshop where Minister announces the formation of task force on Street Vendors to formulate the “National Policy for Street Vendors”.
  • 2004: National Policy for street Vendors was enacted.
  • 2010: A demand was made for the “Central Act” for Vendors.
  • 2013: The Street Vending (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Bill 2013 was approved by House of Commons.  
  • 2014: Hunger strike and advocating by SEWA resulted in Passing of the bill in the Upper House of the Parliament.

Thus, the Street vendors’ bill is unanimously passed by both the houses of parliament and currently pending the final approval of the President of India.

The magnificent victory of Street Vendors has brought happiness in the informal economy of the country. SEWA is celebrating the glorious victory with 1.9 million members, across 13 states including 200,000 vendor members and invites others to participate in their celebration.

Bro. Sudhershan Rao, Regional Secretary, IndustriALL South Asia Office stated:

The long protracted and strategic struggle of the street vendors, spanning four decades, led to a successful resolution in this passing of the bill. Now the real challenge begins, the stakeholders must work with devotion and commitment for a successful implementation of the statute to extend the long awaited benefits to the street vendors.