Tuesday, August 02, 2005

In defence of street vendors

Madhu Kishwar, editor of Manushi, has an excellent op-ed in today's ToI about how, in spite of its great benefits to society, street vending is treated essentially as a crime by our society in general, and our municipal governments in particular. She calls for a liberalization of this sphere of economic activity.

Trade plays the same role for an economy that blood circulation does for the human body. The health of an economy is seriously jeopardised if needless bureaucratic obstructions are placed in the way of trade and flow of goods from the producers to the consumers. While all those lobbying in favour of globalisation and liberalisation have begun to recognise this truth with regard to the products manufactured in the corporate sector, they are not willing to extend the logic of this approach to the micro enterprises run by the poor, such as street vendors.

Kishwar's op-ed ends on a mildly optimistic note; still, there is a long way to go.

[...] Manushi's plan of developing model hawker markets in collaboration with the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (such as the one in-the-making at Sewa Nagar) includes strict self-regulation and civic discipline as well as willingness of vendors to pay rent for the space they use.

After years of struggle by Manushi, Self-Employed Women's Association and others, a New National Policy for Street Vendors was approved by the cabinet in January 2004. Serious institutional mechanisms should be put in place to implement this new policy, signalling an era of pro-poor economic reforms.