How street vendors and urban planners can work together?! – National Policy on Urban Street Vendors

Sally Roever shows how an inclusive attitude towards street vendors and an understanding of how they fit into the urban economy and streetscape has improved livelihoods dramatically in Bhubaneswar and Durban.

Below are the few excerpts of the article. Catch the entire article at


Street vending has persisted for centuries all over the world, despite a multitude of efforts to curtail it. Its ease of entry offers an option for generating a subsistence income for many, but its potential as an engine of growth also attracts better-off entrepreneurs who can capitalise on the easy access to consumers that working in the streets provides.

But they don’t just work in any old streets, and there’s the rub: street vendors strategically locate their workplaces in urban areas with steady pedestrian flows, often in central business districts or near crowded transport junctions. In doing so, they rankle big businesses, real estate developers, and other elites who want access to the same space. Overcrowding of vendors in these areas can also exacerbate broader problems in urban governance, such as traffic congestion, solid waste management, and public health risks.

To address these problems, city governments need a way to define and enforce rules governing who gets access to what space at what times. But they won’t get anyone to follow those rules if they aren’t appropriate to the way the city’s retail economy works. And they won’t get buy-in from vendors unless vendors are collectively invited to the policy table, and can find a common voice. The challenge here, however, is that most street vendors are self-employed workers who bear all the risks of doing business individually, and often prioritise securing their own individual space over longer-term collective goals.

In September 2012, India’s Minister of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation introduced the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Bill in the country’s lower house of Parliament. This historic bill is one of the only efforts in the world to protect street vendors’ rights at the level of national law. The bill follows on a National Policy on Urban Street Vendors, passed in 2004 and revised in 2009.

The national policy, and now the bill, came about after years of struggle on the part of the National Association of Street Vendors of India (NASVI) and the Self Employed Women’s Asssociation (SEWA), membership-based organisations who became involved in all stages of policy formulation. In contrast to efforts to manage street vending by making it go away, the bill recognises that street trade is here to stay.

Though it is too early to know how the bill will perform once it is made law, it addresses key points where conflicts between vendors and governments typically arise. The bill, modeled after the policy, defines a registration process for vendors, their rights and obligations to work in authorised vending zones, and a statutory bargaining forum called Town Vending Committees in which vendors are represented through their associations. Notably, the bill also allows for evictions, relocations, and confiscations of merchandise, but defines the conditions under which they may take place. Most significantly, the bill recognises street vending as a right and as an urban poverty alleviation measure, while acknowledging the need for local authorities to regulate it.

The National Policy in India have had a considerable impact on urban livelihoods. In Bhubaneswar, India, where the city partnered with member-based organisations to implement the policy, 91 per cent of vendors reported an increase in their income.

The key innovation in  Bhubaneswar was to recognize that it makes sense to keep street vending in natural market areas of the city. That’s where vendors are going to go anyway. By working with vendors’ organisations to develop sensible rules, city officials can rely on vendors to help make those rules sustainable and end the need for costly punitive actions.


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