Empower the poor with economic freedom.

Consider the burden of government regulations a street entrepreneur in India has to face daily:

Street hawkers: Street hawkers and vendors aren’t exempt from such burdensome legislations either. There are more than 600,000 street hawkers in Delhi, of whom only about five per cent have the tehbazari (license) permit to hawk their goods on public space. The rest are subjected to continuous harassment through extortion and/or eviction.

The result of such regulations is that most of these street entrepreneurs are doomed to a life of illegality. It is a vicious cycle- because of their illegal status, they are exposed to constant harassment, and extortion at the hands of the concerned authorities who have a vested interest in keeping them illegal since they stand to gain from the constant payment of bribes to ward off evictions.

According to the Mumbai Municipal Corporation Act, 1888, hawkers should not hawk within 100 metres from any place of worship, holy shrine, educational institution and general hospital and within the periphery of 150 metres from any municipal or other market.

In such a scenario, a hawker on a sidewalk can spread his wares only up to the reach of his hands, as he has to be able to gather them and run as soon as the siren of the police vehicle is heard, else the wares would be confiscated. His business is limited by the reach of his arms! This is also true for hawkers in hawking zones, but who have no license.

The cost of such illegality is that the street entrepreneur is condemned to lifelong poverty. Even if he has savings or the capacity to borrow to expand his business, he is unable to take advantage.

The government’s initiative to address the plight of street entrepreneurs such as these has come in the form of the Unorganised Sector Workers Bill 2004. However, this Bill overlooks the situation of self-employed street entrepreneurs. Centre for Civil Society’s Livelihood Freedom Campaign demands that this error be rectified by including at least the following provisions-

  1. Remove all licenses and restrictions on entry-level professions.
  2. Respect the property rights of street entrepreneurs to their means of livelihood and merchandise.
  3. Decentralize the management of public space by creating ward-level governing committees.