Push government to implement all welfare measures in Street Vendors Act : Lekha Adavi

Lekha Adavi, a member of AICTU, says that without BBMP elections, there are no corporators to address the issues of street vendors.

(In part 1 of the interview series, Lekha Adavi, member of the All India Centre of Trade Unions (AICTU), spoke about the effects of climate change on Bengaluru’s street vendors. In part 2, she highlights how The Street Vendors Act (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of street vending) 2014 falls short in its implementation)

Excerpts:

How do you engage with local authorities or municipal agencies to raise awareness of the challenges faced by street vendors during temperature surges? What responses or support do they provide?

Lekha: Well, they don’t respond to any of our demands. In Bengaluru, the BBMP elections haven’t happened in a very long time. So, you don’t have corporators, you don’t have elected representatives who can take up these issues. Bureaucrats are also helpless because the entire functioning of the BBMP has been affected because elections are not being conducted.

Even budget allocations for street vendors is affected. How it gets allocated, where it goes, the entire urban governance system has been impacted. And meeting bureaucrats is a bit of an issue. At least you know where corporators live, and you can go to their houses and sit outside and talk to them. To meet bureaucrats, you will have to go as per their timings, and the workload of bureaucrats is also higher because there is no devolution of responsibilities.

In any case, the government has not done enough when it comes to protecting street vendors, despite the existence of the Street Vendors Act. They aren’t even aware of this Act, and that street vendors have rights, and are entitled to receive certain benefits and welfare measures.

At the same time, bureaucrats are against street vendors. So, it is a huge challenge for street vendors. Irrespective of the climate crisis, the entire system is apathetic. For street vendors, the fight is to ensure that their voices are heard.

a street vendor in Mumbai puts a garland together while wearing a cloth over a head to protect herself from the heat
Street vendors in Mumbai are directly exposed to the sun for hours at a stretch. Pic: Gopal MS, Mumbai Paused

Read more: More heat, less business: Street vendors struggle as temperatures soar in Mumbai


Are there any policy changes or interventions that are necessary to better protect street vendors from the adverse effects of temperature surges in Bengaluru?

Lekha: If they implement what exists that will be more than enough. In terms of the implementation of the Act, the policy is DAY-NULM (Deendayal Antyodaya Yojana-National Urban Livelihoods Mission). If you look at the Act, after vending zones are allocated, policies are done and dusted with. There are provisions to arrange drinking water facilities, toilet facilities, streetlights, shelter facilities, weighing scales, push carts among other things, whatever makes it easier for the street vendors to carry out their livelihood. Those welfare measures are already ingrained in the Act and in the DAY-NULM policy. But none of that is being implemented to begin with.

So, even if welfare measures are provided to street vendors, and the Act, along with the DAY-NULM policy, are implemented, they will receive some relief. The problem is that the government is not implementing the measures they have established. .

What are the challenges in the implementation of the Act and existing policies on street vendors?

It is basically about class. Many academics and newspaper reports have discussed how the state views street vendors as a nuisance and does not want them to occupy the streets.

Even though there are policies and laws protecting them, there has to be some will to implement and follow the law, but that is not happening. That is the same with any urban poor. You can look at homeless people, slum residents, sanitation workers, sex workers who are on the street. It is all a class-caste issue.

How many Brahmins do you see as street vendors? How many of them are sanitation workers? How many of them are living in slums? How many rich people are out on the streets engaged in street vending? You will of course see food trucks. But who has the capital to invest in a truck and fancy paints and graphics to attract people? Street vendors come from a certain class and caste background, and a majority of them are Muslims. So, in this day and age, they are the first ones to also be impacted by communal violence.

They are the ones bearing the brunt of the political climate in the country.


Read more: Bengaluru’s street vendors: A vibrant community deprived of rights


What role can community organisations or civil society groups play in providing assistance and support to street vendors during periods of extreme heat?

Lekha: There is only one thing to do, which is to put pressure on the governments to ensure that these welfare measures are implemented. As a trade union, we believe that until and unless street vendors raise their voice and make certain demands, the government is not going to act. NGOs can negotiate, lobby, and advocate for policy changes to help street vendors. However, without collective pressure, even if street vendors make demands through trade unions, change is unlikely to occur.

Even the law was enacted due to pressure from street vendors. The history of the Act, the Standing Committee reports on the Act, and the Law Commission reports indicate that the NHF (National Hawker Federation) has been advocating for street vendors since 1994. Their agitations and struggles, which began in Kolkata after Operation Sunshine, pressured the central government to take action.

It was because street vendor organisations pushed for it that the law finally came into being. The National Street vendor policy of 2009 came into being prior to the Street Vendors Act.

The Act incorporated many elements of the existing policy itself, so it is not very different. However, this happened because the street vendors organised protests and stood their ground against eviction by Municipal Corporation officers or police, and resisted being shooed away. Without that kind of radical combats and confrontations, the policies, which are meant to protect street vendors’ rights, wouldn’t have existed.

Looking forward, what are the main objectives or priorities in advocating for the rights and well-being of street vendors in the face of increasing temperature extremes in Bengaluru?

Lekha: Even though it has been 10 years since the implementation of the Act, it is something that we continue to press for. That means whatever welfare measures are there, whatever rights have to be given, it is not being implemented at all.

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