Street Vendors on the Post-COVID Street

Through the Lens of Our Practice

The lockdown exposed many of the gaps and faultlines in existing practices of urban governance and planning. While the grave crisis of migrants and other vulnerable sections of the urban population required an immediate response, the lockdown also pushed researchers to reflect on their own long-term practice and respond to the situation from that vantage point.  As HUL coordinated migrant relief, designed communication materials and put together useful data for the pandemic response, members of the HUL team also composed responses to the situation on the ground from the lens of their own practice and on-going research. We present those articulations in this series of blog posts.

(Image Courtesy: Meenakshi Meera)

Street Vendors on the Post-COVID Street

This article is based on figures made public up until April 2020. More recent survey figures have not been officially released by the Telangana State Government.

COVID-19 has altered urban life overnight and prompted people to rethink their living arrangements. This crisis is reshaping the built environment. Will cities be able to return to the way it used to be? If not, where will the informal workers of the city be placed in a post- COVID city?

The announcement of a nationwide lockdown may have delayed the spread of COVID-19, but it has also made the poor more vulnerable. This includes street vendors. The lockdown has repositioned them. For some people, they are saviors and for others, they are a source of danger. The concern of public hygiene has already started to filter out people from streets and public spaces. What will a post-COVID street look like? Will it be a street full of white squares and circles? Will all street vendors be allowed to resume their business or will they be evicted in the name of public hygiene? Despite the Street Vendors Act, many cities have conducted eviction drive in the last one month. How is this livelihood protection act going to provide social and financial security to these vendors during this crisis?

According to Street Vendors Act, 2014, every state is supposed to frame a scheme and set of rules for implementing the act. The Government of Telangana has published a State Street Vending Scheme in 2016. Without any rules in place, the state government has managed to form 103 Town Vending Committees in 74 towns with elected vendor representatives. In February 2018, a survey of street vendors was conducted in 66 urban local bodies and 67,313 street vendors were identified. The Town Vending Committee has set up 81 vending zones across the city of Hyderabad without a comprehensive city street vending plan. It is also worth pointing out that the survey and distribution of vending license was not a citywide process.

Even though the Act focuses on the protection of livelihood and regulation of street vending, many states have used it as a tool only to grant licenses.  The potential of this act and scheme to tackle post-COVID urban issues should not go unnoticed.

This pandemic has made everyone acutely aware of the presence of street vendors and their importance in a neighborhood. Local-level management is essential during this unprecedented crisis. It is time to look again at the state scheme and redefine the role of the street vendor in a street ecosystem.  

The following are a few ways to re-frame the State scheme: 

Categorization of Vendors and survey

Mobile, static and peripatetic are the three categories of vendors mentioned in the scheme, which is based only on mobility. This should have further subcategories based on other parameters like time intervals and nature of vending. This would help in prioritizing vending activities and basic food distribution in each locality during a crisis. The survey of street vendors should preferably be conducted on a city-wide basis. A ward level survey with the help of community resource persons by the respective TVCs would make the data more accurate. Adding a layer of spatial data and requirements of vendors would help in the preparation of a street vending plan. 

Town Vending Committees

For the implementation of the act, a town vending committee (TVC) is to be constituted at the ULB level. It is ideal for Hyderabad to form ward level or circle level TVCs for effective management. Promotion of public health and hygiene is one of the key functions of TVC. Medical camps and checkups should be arranged for street vendors.  At the time of crisis, the government should use this as a channel to ensure the safety and security of street vendors, especially migrant vendors. Common Interest Groups (CIGs) mentioned in section 22 can make the process easier. TVCs should ensure the distribution of essential items in all neighbourhoods of a ward. Sanitation and waste management facilities for vendors should be taken care of. Post-lockdown, a ward level vending plan should be devised with the help of CIGs. 

Common Interest Groups

Common Interest Groups (CIGs) are a group of 10-12 vendors operating in a particular residential area/ street. They act as Self Help Groups (SHG) with 10-15 CIGs forming an area-level federation. Instead of numbers, CIGs can be formed by identifying small stretches in a street, based on the nature of vending or nature of the neighborhood. CIGs have more potential than just looking after the social and financial security of street vendors. This should be developed as a distribution network for the supply of essential items in a neighborhood during the time of crisis. ‘Dial-your-vendor’ or door to door delivery system can be devised on a neighborhood scale. They could also be a channel in spreading awareness in the neighborhood through loudspeakers, pamphlets, or any other visual elements. 

Basic facilities like public toilets, drinking water, masks, and hand washing/ hand sanitizing facilities for street vendors can be monitored through CIGs. Most importantly, this can help in locating street vendors during any crisis; helping them by providing basic food and wages. Community resource persons can help in the capacity building of vendors. CIGs should be consulted during the preparation and implementation of ward vending plans. Mapping street infrastructure with the help of CIGs will be easier. 

Vending zones and street vending plan

The planning authority is supposed to devise spatial norms for the demarcation of vending, restricted vending, and non-vending zones. 2.5 per cent of the population of an area cannot be a thumb rule to calculate the holding capacity of vendors anymore. With no criteria in place, these zones can be a tool to restrict or evict vendors. Criteria that are flexible enough to acknowledge different built fabrics of a city are essential. According to the Act, the TVC is supposed to draft a street vending plan for the city. For a city like Hyderabad, the city vending plan will just be a coloured zoning map. It is time to shift focus from metro-scale to micro-scale. Ward level TVCs should prepare a street vending plan for respective wards. Post-COVID, cities are likely to go through a sudden change in urban behaviour. Thus it is important to incorporate these new urban distances into street vending plans. For example distance between two vendors, distance between vendor and customer, the distance between customers, and so on. The TVC should check whether these distances are maintained in every street. Other spatial requirements like storage spaces, parking of carts should also be taken in to account. The scheme also mentions allotment of space and stationery stalls. It is ideal to incorporate a street vending plan with the local area plan.

This ‘new normal’ is constantly changing in unprecedented ways and it has made us look at cities in a whole new framework.  It has made us realize the need for local scale or neighbourhood level management. The scheme which was just another document until yesterday has the potential to reshape neighbourhoods and cities. This has helped in reinterpreting the role of a street vendor in a post-COVID city. 

Next Article: Three Questions Our Cities Need To Answer: Planning Our Cities Post COVID-19

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