Streets provides living to urban poor

Shivani Singh, PRIA

A street vendor is a person who offers goods for sale to the public at large without having a permanent built-up structure from which to sell. Street vendors may be stationary in the sense that they occupy space on the pavements or other public/private spaces, or mobile in the sense that they move from place to place by carrying their wares on push carts or on their heads (India Seminar).

Street vendors form a very important component of the urban informal sector in India. According to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, there are 10 million street vendors in India, with Mumbai accounting for 250,000; Delhi has 200,000, Kolkata, more than 150,000, and Ahmedabad, 100,000. Most3S of them are immigrants or laid-off workers, work for an average 10–12 hours a day, and remain impoverished (wikipedia).

My visit to Kolkata happened in the month of April 2014. As this was my first visit to Kolkata I thought of capturing the urban poor of Kolkata in action. I happen to stay in Park Street, Kolkata which is considered to be one of the posh areas of Kolkata. Walking down the street I saw many glimpses of urban poor engaged in different work. Like selling mouthwatering bhel puri (savory Indian snack), serving masala coke in khulad (earthen pot), making jhal muri (a delicious Bengali snack!), preparing hot pakodas (savory Indian snack), Pan (north Indian mouth freshener); doing haircut, collecting waste from streets and so on. They put their mobile workplace somewhere in the corner, under the tree, by the street side; they make a work place of their own try to make a living out of that corner in the street.


The picture showcases how a vendor making bhel puri for a resident of Park Street where in majority people of higher income group live. A good glimpse where a non-poor is eating what a poor has made to earn his living. In the second picture we see a urban poor has set up a un-walled shop with a table, some utensils, a plastic water container, a cane basket, and two three workers with their role assigned like one preparing dough, one frying it, other one giving it shape and one selling it to the customer. In the third picture we see a man preparing paan. The small table contains all the steel boxes containing the ingredients of paan4S

We can even see lemon and green chilies hanging from the table. It was interesting to see this especially on the workplace of urban poor as it exhibits their beliefs system. I asked the vendor why he has put this on his shop he replied that, “All of us want Lakshmi (goddess of wealth) to reside in our homes so that our homes are always brimming with wealth and prosperity. And at the same time we also dread Alakshmi or Jyestha (goddess of poverty). We want that Alakshmi should never enter our homes. So I have put the Lemon and Green Chillies.” This statement made me realize how important it is for a poor that prosperity should always be in their house and workplace. The next picture in line is of a barber who is doing shaving on streets. We can see that he is sitting on a stone slab, with two plastic bottles, a glass and a knife and blades. The customer is sitting in front getting his work done. Also we can see that the wall of a building is being utilized for hanging bags and other stuff. In the last picture we can see that a group of rag pickers are resting in the street with whole day’s work. They all live under a bridge they sleep, eat, cook, and get ready on street. As we see that their cloths are hanging on the walls.


Looking at them it can be concluded that for urban poor streets are places where they earn their living. Though, the earnings are hand to mouth but very essential for their survival. The urban poor are migrants to towns and cities and face harassment at every step. A midst this passing of the Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending Bill, 2014 is undoubtedly a blessing in disguise.




One thought on “Streets provides living to urban poor

  1. Ronnie Tehrani May 12, 2014 at 9:59 am Reply

    Dear Shivani,

    While you have painted a very romantic picture of the street vendors, I would like to share my perspective on the subject of street vendors too. I have no love for them.

    I think this is definitely no solution to solve the economic livelihood agenda and the rampant growth in this activity is just due to lax and incompetent administration. These vendors with their encroachments take up valuable walking space on the city streets seriously inconveniencing the pedestrians and this part irks me the most. I think the policymakers should take a more progressive look on the matter and demarcate public spaces keeping the interests f all kinds of stakeholders in mind. The whole issue of economic livelihoods is too dated and platitudinal.


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