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Street Food Vendors And Their Flickering Right To Livelihood In Time Of Pandemic

India, one of the worst-affected countries by COVID-19 has eased most lockdown restrictions and attempted to reopen its battered economy, but some restrictions on street trade remain, and many customers have stayed away. This is putting a strain on the country's ubiquitous street vendors, who sell everything from snacks and cups of tea to toys and shoes at traffic lights, on pavements, and from carts.

With the COVID-19 outbreak, the culture of street food will no longer be like that it used to be, and the vendors' livelihoods will suffer as a result. The only source of some people's income was street food vending, so they suffered a significant loss in light of the pandemic. These vendors have had no stable income for the past year and have struggled.

The problem of street food vendors appears to have deteriorated during the pandemic, despite the fact that such problems have existed for a long. India is also the country where, plausibly or jurisprudentially, the Supreme Court has granted the Right to Livelihood the status of Fundamental Right, but the same Judiciary has faced several challenges in defending such Rights when cases involving street vendors have come before it.

One of the major sources of concern for officials during the COVID-19 Pandemic is the migration of daily wage laborers and street food vendors who are unable to make their ends meet. They were forced to close the shops and their jobs due to the lockdown, and they are now starving to death. Despite the fact that the lockdown is being lifted or eased in some areas, the authorities are not allowing unauthorized street food vendors.

Background:
Looking back in time, the activity of food street vending started a long time ago, and the numbers have been increasing since in cities such as Mumbai, Delhi, Jaipur, Calcutta, Ahmadabad, and others, with nearly 867426 registered vendors and many more unregistered vendors as 637 streets vendor's organizations across India1. It provides a high degree of job opportunities and has become an essential part of the urban lifestyle. Aside from that, they are contributing to the economy of developing countries, accounting for 2% of the metropolis's population.

In India, more than 90% of the working population is employed in the informal sector2 for a living, with street vendors accounting3 for 14% of the informal sector. Street vending is classified into several categories based on their employment status, workplace location, product category, and type of premise.4

Legal Provision for Right to livelihood:

The Supreme Court of India ruled in the Olga Telis5 case that the right to a livelihood is a fundamental right of every Indian citizen.

However, the Court later experienced several difficulties in defending the Right to Livelihood of the marginalized sections of Indian society who lacked property and were thus forced to live in Public Places in violation of Municipal Rules of Conduct. One such oppressed population is the population of Street Food Vendors, who, due to a lack of private property ownership, establish their business ventures in Public Places to maintain their livelihood because they have no other option. These people rely on the daily income generated by the services they provide to customers.

In the case of Bombay Hawkers Union v. BMC & Others 6, the Supreme Court for the first time retained street vendors' right to a living and went on to rule that unreasonable restrictions and conditions cannot be imposed on street vendors. In Gainda Ram v. MCD 7, the Supreme Court stated that the fundamental right of hawkers cannot be kept in the dark simply because they are poor and unorganized, nor can it be completely decided by the varying standards of a scheme that changes from time to time under the Court's orders.

Further, in the case of Sodan Singh v. New Delhi Municipal Corporation 8, the Supreme Court recognized the right of street vendors to practice their business. The court ruled that, with proper regulation, vendors can be a boon to society by providing items of daily use at a lower cost.


Legal Provision for Street Vendors:

  • Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014

    After consultations with various individual street vendors and organizations, the Government of India introduced the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Bill, 2012 in Parliament in September 2012, in recognition of the significant contributions made by street vendors to urban society and in order to empower them to earn a respectable living. The bill is based on the 2004 Street Vendors Policy, which was later revised as the National Policy on Urban Street Vendors, 2009.

    It also directed the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation to formulate a central law. In the years since the Ministry has drafted legislation to ensure the safety of legitimate street vendors. On March 4, 2014, the bill was finally passed by both houses of Parliament and received the President's approval. In this tough time of the pandemic, this very Act is urgently needed because it protects vendors, who account for up to 2% of the total population, and their profession in the face of rapid urban change, as well as provides a sense of security to the urban poor and promotes their livelihood.
     
  • National Association of Street Vendors of India - NASVI

    NASVI advocates for street food vendors and other vendors by attempting to bring their issues and challenges to the attention of the authorities. The organization engages in advocacy both at the local and state levels. Further NASVI supports and campaigns to raise vendor awareness of their rights and development activities.

    NASVI has an impact on policy regarding the livelihood rights of street food vendors. The organization has been in regular discussion with the authorities in order to protect the rights of street food vendors and free them from the shackles of police and municipal authorities.

The National Association of Street Vendors (NASVI) is now trying to advocate for the protection of street vendors' rights under the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014. After a prolonged struggle, the organization was successful in getting the Street Vendors Act enacted, and it is now working to ensure that the Act is effectively implemented.

NASVI's advocacy for street food vendors is reflected in numerous court cases, as well as numerous campaigns. The most landmark case involving the protection of the rights of street food vendors is the case of the National Association of Street Vendors of India through its coordinator vs. South Delhi Municipal Corporation and ors. In this case, the Hon'ble High Court of Delhi quashed the Municipal Corporations of Delhi's arbitrary notices prohibiting the sale of cut fruits and sugarcane juice for six months each year.

Conclusion:
The lockdown could never have been avoided, but these vendors are unable to cope with the influx of the same. Street food vendors contribute significantly to the informal sector and are expanding at a rapid pace, as their entire life is dependent on the trucks or stalls they set up for a living.

They are an important part of society, and in addition to providing affordable food, they attract a large number of tourists by empowering the social and cultural heritage. COVID-19 has made things difficult, but we've as a society have all come a long way together to fight it. Even after the lockdown is lifted without restriction, it will be difficult to restore because people will be subject to the COVID 19 effect.

There are laws in place to protect these vendors, as well as assertions for their training, etc., but it has become imperative to put things in reality rather than on paper. Furthermore, they should be allowed to conduct business and stalls throughout the week rather than just on certain days, as they have already suffered during a complete lockdown. This will give them an advantage in the battle for survival.

Because NASVI has stated that vending zones will be established for these people to ensure social distancing, they must be permitted to operate for the entire seven days. Few more, new initiatives should be initiated to promote street food; eventually, all of these efforts will assist small street vendors in earning a living in the same way they did previously.

End-Notes:
  1. Available at: http://nasvinet.org/newsite/
  2. Available at: http://mospi.nic.in/publication/annual-report-plfs-2017-18.
  3. Available at: http://www.ilo.org/stat/Publications/WCMS_234413/lang--en/index.htm
  4. Available at: https://www.wiego.org/sites/default/les/publications/les/WIEGO-Annual-Report-2013-2014.pdf
  5. (2000) 10 SCC 664
  6. (1985) AIR 1206
  7. (2010) 10 SCC 715
  8. (1984) 4 SCC 155
  9. Available at: http://164.100.24.219/BillsTexts/LSBillTexts/PassedLoksabha/104C_2012_LS_Eng.pdf
  10. National Policy on Urban Street Vendors, 2009. http://mhupa.gov.in/policies/StreetPolicy09.pdf.
  11. Act No. 07 of 2014.
  12. Anjaria, Jonathan. “How We Define the Street.” Indian Express, March 10, 2014.
    Available at: http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/how-we-define-the-street/
  13. 2015 (3) CRIMES 515

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