Rostrum’s Law Review | ISSN: 2321-3787



Irrespective of the social standing every human being born holds the basic human rights guaranteed by the law, to live the life with dignity. There are various International and National Pacts or Accords guaranteeing the human rights of all the individuals throughout the world. However, one of the untended segments of the society is Street Vendors and despite all the international regulations, the livelihoods of these street vendors are precarious, and the onset of this pandemic has made it even worst. In India, Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014[1]  was enacted hoping to change the lives of street vendors in a prerogative way but incongruously due to the non-implementation of the act, the street vendors are subjected to constant atrocities in the hands of the Police, Municipal Bodies and Public Welfare Departments. The street vendors belong to the unorganised sector which constitutes about 82% of the Indian work force. They are the backbone of the economy even though they are not being considered as an integral part of the society.

The Covid-19 pandemic drew the last straw when the Government announced lockdown. The work of these street vendors who are facing the mayhem with regard to their daily income through street vending suddenly became invisible as if they never existed. Despite the law in force and several courts orders the street vendor’s plights and gross violation of their basic human rights are seeing no rays of hope.

Key words: Street vendors, human rights, constitutional law, street vendors act, Covid-19.

Human Rights are not a privilege conferred by Government. They are every human being’s entitlement by virtue of his humanity”-Mother Teresa


The existence of the street vendors can be traced back to ancient and medieval times when they sold their items travelling across the whole world as merchants. In those times they were not looked upon with anathema. Due to which they flourished and kept the trading or the selling of items movement alive throughout the world. In fact, most of the items which were indigenous to a particular region were made global by these wandering traders. Thus, since time immemorial this one section of the society that has been continuously evolving and adapting to changing times are the street vendors. Every civilization all over the world has one thing common in trade amongst them- Street Vendors. The question that arises now is “Who Are These Street Vendors”.

The informal sector includes a sizable share of the vending industry, which offers prospects for business ownership and self-employment. For several decades post-independence in India, it can be seen that vendors, especially in the unorganized sector, encountered harassment, extortion and displacement at the hands of local authorities and found no relief from courts either[2]. According to the definition as mentioned in National Policy on Urban Street Vendors 2006, “street vendor is a person who offers goods and services for sale to the public without having a permanent built-up structure in a street[3]”. Again, “as per section 2(l) of the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014, street vendor means a person engaged in vending of articles, goods, wares, food items or merchandise of  everyday use or offering services to the general public, in a street, lane, side walk, footpath, pavement, public park or any other public place or private area, from a temporary built up structure or by moving from place to place and includes hawker, peddler, squatter and all other synonymous terms which may be local or region specific; and the words “street vending” with their grammatical variations and cognate expressions, shall be construed accordingly[4]

Current Scenario:

The statistics released by the 50th round of National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) in the year 1993-1994, estimates the number of street vendors as 3.5 crores (including urban area and rural area)[5].There are different categories of these street vendors. According to the Government of India there are mainly three categories of these street vendors namely the Stationary Street Vendors (sitting in one place), Mobile Street Vendors (the ones who sells items on bicycles/motorized vehicles), and Peripatetic Street Vendors (who carry out vending on foot example in buses/trains/traffic signals). However, there are sub-categories of these street vendors who sell items in different markets like weekly markets, night markets, festival markets etc. Owing to poverty, shrinkage of employment, lack of proper skill and education, there is shortage of employment in the formal sector. In order to survive when these people opt for informal sector like selling and buying goods on the street to earn and meet their daily needs are called as hawker/ pheriwalla /rehri-patriwalla / footpath dukandars / sidewalk traders / street vendors etc. The earnings produced by these street vendors through vending activities are barely enough for them to meet the ends. Due to population explosion in the recent times and the rapid growth of the society the people from rural areas are migrating towards the urban areas in search for earning livelihood. However, due to lack of resources they are unable to secure more paying jobs in formal sector. Through meagre resources these street vendors are just struggling to solve their day-to-day life problems. Since the inception of the concept of society these street vendors have been offering their services and goods to the society making lifestyle comfortable. However, due to the gradual change in the structure of the society these street vendors have seen and faced the atrocities in the hands of the government officials. With the development and progress of the society the law and order has also changed and developed over the period bringing the issues of street vendors.

There are many markets in the capital, Delhi, like Lajpat Nagar, Sarojini Nagar, Janpath to name a few, where the main attractions of public are goods and services provided by these street vendors. There are varieties of street vendors selling their beautiful and affordable products ranging from clothes, shoes, house-hold goods, cosmetics, accessories, food etc. The foreign tourists specially come to such markets and enjoy the uniqueness of the items and way of selling

by these street vendors. These street vendors are the soul as well as crowd pullers of any market. Many a times due to the presence of these street vendors/hawkers in a market the footfall in shops also increases. However, one should see common sight of the chaos that is created in the market when the so called “Committee-wala” (the people from PWD or municipalities come for confiscation of the goods of these vendors). Everywhere the street vendors are found running around like rats to hide their goods and themselves. It’s an outright violation of human rights when they are subjected to so much of pain and humiliation along with the risk factor to life and personal liberty. It’s a huge humiliation for these street vendors when these authorities confiscate their goods right in front of everyone and also beat them up brutally when resisted.  It’s an accepted reality that these street vendors are those people of the society who does not have any dignity, but the worst part is when these vendors try to negotiate and resist these authorities then they are charged under false cases and sent to jail for months. It’s a gross violation of the human rights of these street vendors as these incidences not only taints their reputation in the society but also affects the mental condition tremendously. It’s very important for every individual to get the peace of mind to carry out their profession as it determines the mental frame work of the individual and his family member’s well-being. It won’t be inappropriate to say that in such a scenario we as a society failed them.

The economic contribution of these street vendors towards the society cannot be overlooked or ignored. They contribute a lot towards the country’s Gross Domestic Product[6]. Yet, due to lack of usufructuary rights, they carry out vending activities in the open spaces and are frequently capitulated to blackmail and badgering by local authorities[7]. The increasing incidences regarding gross violation of human rights are a matter of great concern as it creates a disturbance in the society.


Street Vendors Act and Street Vendors:

The rights that are inalienable to all people, regardless of their religion, race, sex, language, nationality, or place of birth, are known as human rights. Every human being is entitled to these without any discrimination, and they include the rights to life, liberty, the freedom to labour, and the right to an education[8] . There are several laws that have been enacted by the Parliament of this country for the betterment of the marginalised or the poor people, but hardly anyone talks about its implementation. The Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014 is one of such Act.

The Act for the street vendors was passed in order to safeguard the legal rights of urban street vendors, control their business practises, and address any issues that may arise in the course of business. In this context, taking into account the significant contribution that street vendors make to urban society, and in order to enable them to earn a living by creating conditions for decent work, without impeding on the rights of others and in accordance with the spirit of the Indian Constitution, which guarantees citizens the right to equal protection under the law and the freedom to engage in any profession, occupation, trade, or business, the Indian Government revised the National Policy 2004 and reintroduced it as National Policy on Urban Street Vendors 2009[9]. To run a successful business, one needs to have right atmosphere in the form of proper infrastructure and ample investments from public and private sector. However, in case of street vendors the magnitude of investments is less as compared to public and private investments. The only thing is required here is right approach which is duly enshrined under article-14 and article-19 of the Constitution of India, provided it is implemented in letter and spirit by the government agencies. Apart from other provisions relating to constitution of Town Vending Committees, Section 12 to Section 17 (Chapter -III) of the Act provides categorically the Rights and Obligations of the Street Vendors. The right of all the street vendors to carry out their vending activities as per the terms and conditions of the vending certificate has been mentioned in section-12. The Act also provides for dispute redressal mechanism to address the grievances of Street Vendors.

“Suitably, the Act also provides against harassment of Street Vendors which states that no street vendor who carries on the street vending activities in accordance with the terms and conditions of his certificate of vending shall be prevented from exercising such rights by any person or police or any other authority exercising powers under any other law for the time being in force”[10]. However, it can be seen that the authorities are apathetic towards it and the beneficiaries are unaware about it. These street vendors are looked upon as an illegal entity of the society, thus they are not given any specific place or area in any city or town to carry on their business. As a result of this they end up selling their goods and items on the pavements, roadsides and sidewalks creating chaos to the pedestrians and traffic which also makes them an eye sore to the public and the authorities. Due to this reason, they end up greasing the palms of the authorities of police, municipal corporations, public welfare departments etc., so that they can earn their bread and butter for survival. Most of the times the street vendors and the authorities are caught up the cat and rat race playing hide and seek with each other. Hence, the growing incidences of violation of human rights of these street vendors are a matter of great concern. India is the biggest democracy in the world yet the violation of human rights of street vendors is displaying the failure of establishing their rights by the concerned authorities. It is so difficult to even envisage a life where one has to struggle on everyday basis to earn their livelihood.

These street vendors on daily basis have uncertainties about their livelihood. They belong to the marginalised section of the society without any security for their future, health insurance, financial security, education for children, pension etc. If we consider this aspect from psychological angle then the constant threat and insecurities about everything in life and future is highly detrimental for this section of the society whom we call as street vendors. This eventually leads to a feeling of detachment for these people as they feel that they have nothing to lose even if they don’t have the basic security of life. Article-21 of the Indian Constitution guarantees every citizen of the country the right to dignity and personal liberty. Right to live in dignity also includes right to earn livelihood in a dignified manner. Due to lack of opportunity and education these street vendors end up working in the informal/unorganised sector of the society. Through street vending they can start to earn a livelihood without much of investment and the certainty of earning is there. However, in doing that they are forced to face the havoc by the government authorities like municipalities, PWDs and police departments. Although their human rights are violated on everyday basis by various authorities, there are hardly any organisation or forum who raise or speak for them. Even if they know about their rights and obligations under statutes like Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014 and rights under the Constitution, they are quite scared or hesitant to raise their voices against the system or demand their rights as they carry out their livelihood at the mercy of these authorities, who appear to be unconcerned about the rights of these vendors.

Issues of Human Rights and Lex Applicabilis:

Urbanization and developments are inter-related; rather it would be more appropriate to say that urbanization is directly proportionate to development of any society or nation. Rapid urbanization has accelerated the issues and challenges of employment. The rate with which urban labour force is expanding, the employment generated in the urban sector of economy is not able to keep pace with and this has resulted into a void in the society[11]. Hence, unemployment and poverty force these people to look at jobs in the informal sectors like street vending to earn their livelihood. One of the poorest, most vulnerable, and marginalised segments of the urban informal labour market is that of street vendors[12]. They are working for 10 to 12 hours on daily basis without any day off and yet their earning is so nominal that most of the times it becomes very difficult for them to fulfil the bare minimum requirement to live life comfortably. This is not the end to their miseries. Violation of the basic rights not only infringes the working poor’s right to earn their livelihood in a dignified manner but it makes the process of earning livelihood more hostile, struggling and painful which eventually leads to destruction of livelihood. Women vendors in these informal sectors continue to struggle to witness brighter side of life. Repercussion of this is reflected in the social, political and economic rights of the street vendors.

Human Rights issues are addressed by the United Nations in the Chapter-IV. They clearly state and deal with the conditions which violates Human Rights. India is a signatory to many international bodies and International Human Rights treaties like “Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948”, “International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all migrant workers and members of their families”, “Prevention of Discrimination (Employment of Occupation) Convention, 1958” and “Employment Policy Convention,1964”. According to these treaties, any violation of a person’s right to social dignity in the workplace constitutes an infraction of the principles of free and open competition. Despite all these there are increasing numbers of cases of human rights violation of these street vendors on daily basis.

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 has specifically mentioned in the Article-I that “All people are born free, with equal rights and respect. They should behave toward one another in a spirit of brotherhood because they are endowed with reason and conscience.” Article-3 says that “Each and every person has the right to life, liberty, and personal security.” Article-5 says that “No one shall ever be forced to undergo torture or other cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment.” Article-8 says that “Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.”

Apart from all these United Nations Declaration and provisions under Street Vendors Act, Article-39-A of the Constitution of India guarantees the citizen, men and women equally, to have the right to an adequate means of livelihood. Article 38(1) directs the state to promote the welfare of the people by securing a social order in which justice – social, economic and political, shall inform all institutions of national life. Article 38(2) directs to ‘minimize the inequalities in income status, facilities and opportunities. Article – 41 specifically provides for ‘right to work’ within the limits of the economic capacity of the state. Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in landmark case of Olga Tellis V. Bombay Municipal Corporation[13], held that life means more than mere the existence of the animal existence. Through this judgment the court explained that the easiest way to deprive a person of his right to life and personal liberty under article-21 of the Constitution of India would be taking away his right to earn his livelihood. This deprivation would not only remove the effective content of life and its meaningfulness but it would also make life unbearable to live. Thus, it becomes clear that there is a close relationship between life and means to earn the livelihood to live life in a more meaningful and content manner as its an integral part of every human being’s life.

Since a very long time these street vendors are knocking the door of justice through cases like Pyare Lal v. NDMC and Anr.[14] to avail the rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution of this country. A few more landmark judgements of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India such as “Maharashtra Ekta Hawkers Union V. Municipal Corporation, Greater Mumbai[15]”,Gainda Ram V. Municipal Corporation of Delhi[16], “Sodan Singh V. New Delhi Municipal Corporation[17]”,where the Apex Court passed orders to safeguard the rights and privileges of these street vendors. The court have been of the view that when these street vendors are trying to earn their livelihood through these meagre resources available to them the state should rather provide them more option to carry on their business rather than trying to put more hurdles in front of them. As observed by the Apex Court, the street vendors are that section of the society who neither possesses the strength to demand jobs from the government nor can they indulge in stealing, begging, extortion etc. They are trying very hard to live their life in dignity but taking up street vending / hawking. The Court in the said matters was of the view that, “hawkers and squatters have a fundamental right to carry on business on the public street, but the same should be regulated” (Sodan Singh & ors. V. NDMC & ors.)[18].

Aftermath of Pandemic:

On 24th March 2020 the whole country witnessed for the very first time in the history- Nation Wide Lockdown amid Covid-19. It didn’t have any precedence and nobody was prepared. Everyone and everything were plunged into ambiguity. The onset of this covid-19 pandemic has shown every individual a different hue of life irrespective of the nation and the social standing. However, the street vendors being the marginalised section of the society were subjected to unimaginable vulnerability and uncertainty and were hit in a very different manner in this pandemic. The nationwide lockdown halted everything right from earning livelihood to free movement and the street vendors had to suffer at every step during this pandemic, be it earning livelihood or going back to their native places.

The sudden announcement of the lockdown with just 4 hours’ notice forced the whole informal sector including the street vendors to face economic adversity, as the empty cities and towns meant no means of earning livelihood. This led to hunger, deprivation and uncertain future[19] . These street vendors are daily wage earners and their life is completely dependent on it as it’s the only source of income for them. When everything was under lockdown then there was no social or economic security for them which also amount to violation of human rights. They were left with no options to earn their livelihood. The economic security went for a toss for these street vendors because they are non-existent in the eyes of the authorities and the society.

These vendors play a vital role in the running of the society smoothly but they are never considered as a crucial part of the society. Initially, when the lockdown was imposed, the police did not hesitate to show their brutality on these street vendors who were out selling last minute essential goods to the public. When everyone rebutted to provide door to door supply of the essential goods during this pandemic, it was these street vendors who didn’t flinch even for once to come forward to provide their services to the public risking their own lives[20]. Amidst this pandemic, the Pradhan Mantri Atmanirbhar Nidhi (PMSVANidhi) Scheme[21] launched by the Hon’ble Prime Minister, tried to address the financial issues of the street vendors by providing loans and the scheme is available only to beneficiaries in states and union territories that have notified rules and schemes under the Street Vendors Act. However, it could not achieve its desired results due to so many factors in implementation stages in various states. The constant risk/threat that these street vendors face about losing their only source of livelihood is breach of human rights. Workers’ rights are human rights and the street vendors are workers and anything that stops them to exercise their rights amounts to violation of human rights. Due to the mammoth population size of the country, the Government despite trying its best could not offer health, social and economic securities to these marginalised people during this pandemic which also added to the flouting of the human rights of these vendors.


In most of the Asian nations the informal sector is exceptionally huge and it constitutes the backbone of the economy. Rather than securing this division and guaranteeing that its specialists get their least contribution, the governments are uninterested to their presence. Street Vendors are an imperative portion of the informal sector not because of their numbers but because of the pivotal parts they play in protecting this sector[22]. As reported in the year 1958, there was one of the worst environmental disasters in the history of mankind known as “Smash Sparrows” started by the Former President of People’s Republic of China, Mao Zedong. According to Mao Zedong the sparrows were eating too many grains from the fields and it was causing hindrance to the economic growth of China[23]. Hence, it is said that he ordered for killing all the sparrows.  This resulted in famine in China as the fields were infested by the insects and pests. Later on, it was found that the sparrows were not eating the grains from the fields but were eating the insects and pests from the crops and were maintaining the balance in the eco-system. The street vendors are also like these sparrows. They are playing a very crucial role in maintaining a balance in the society economically, but their contribution is going unacknowledged. The goods like cloths, plastic wares, house hold items, food items etc., which are sold by the street vendors at a very affordable rate on the pavements or on carts are easily accessible to the millions of urban poor throughout the country. This shows the importance of the street vendors in our society. However, the urban planners have a “Maopic Approach[24] towards these hawkers while planning the cities and towns. Between the two extremes of the society lies the middle and lower middle classes who are engaged in the bulk of economic activities that drive cities, and they are these street vendors[25].

Nature has never been biased with anyone irrespective of the economic, social, political or cultural standing in the society. It’s been kind to everyone and has treated everyone on the same platform. However, unfortunately, it’s us the human beings who have exploited the nature and the poor and unprivileged ones in a harsh and insensitive way. The complete urban population is dependent on these street vendors. If these street vendors are removed from the society in order to achieve a smart or clean city, then it may lead to economic dis-balance in the society along with the violation of their basic human rights. Time and again the importance of these street vendors has been proved to everyone. We can refer to the services of door-to-door services of these street vendors during the tough and unprecedented times of corona virus pandemic.

One of the most convenient ways to liberate these street vendors from the atrocities of the authorities (Municipal bodies, Police department, Public Welfare Departments, Resident Welfare Associations etc.) is to get the Street Vendors Act implemented in letter and spirit. The Supreme court in its latest judgment in the matter “Maharasthra Ekta Hawkers Union V. Municipal Corporation, Greater Mumbai[26] case has clearly ordered that till the survey of all the existing street vendors are completed in accordance with the guidelines mentioned in the National Policy 2009 no street vendor/hawker shall be evicted from their vending sites. After the completion of the said process the street vendors have to function as per the directions and orders of the Town Vending Committee. The state government and the local authorities are sub-delegated to make sub-ordinate legislation as per the street vendors’ act. While state governments have to formulate rules and schemes, municipal authorities are required to enact by-laws. It provides that the respective States will draft the rules and schemes mentioned under Sections 36 and 38 of the Street Vendors Act. Thereafter, they will constitute Town Vending Committee (TVC) following all the guidelines and procedure as mentioned in the act. Survey of the existing street vendors will be carried out and after proper identification and consultation with the Town Vending Committee member a proper vending zone will be identified and these street vendors would be shifted there. These vending zones will be allotted in such areas which won’t be too far off from the main market else these vendors lose their customers and suffer huge setbacks. In order to have sustainable development and a win-win situation to both the sides’ proper implementation of this act is the only option available to the authorities. In order to give the street vendors their due share of dignity to carry out their occupation in a hassle-free manner the only answer would be proper implementation of the Street Vendors Act. There is no value of life if the basic fundamental human rights are not secured. It’s like just breathing to be alive and not living the life to its full spirit.

Although it was found that states that have considerably advanced on most parameters, don’t entirely follow to the procedure laid down within the Act. While a few states made advances by skipping the pre-requisites, others execute forms without constituting the specialist dependable for execution. A near evaluation of the quality of all rules and plans uncovers that these as well go past the letter and aim of the parent Act. Most states have offered arrangements that either unequivocally negate the Act or are vague, dubious and unclear [27]

Another very important aspect of the solution to put off human rights violation of these downtrodden people of the society is to start sensitizing the authorities about the plight of these people. The statute does not provide specifically enforcing the rights of the Vendors, accountability of municipal or public officials. There should be proper training and workshops for the lower-level government employees as well as the top brass in order to be little empathetic towards these street vendors and towards protection of their rights. Without sensitizing the concerned authorities about the Act and its serious impact on the society, the target of achieving a harmonious and free society will be a mere distant dream. When the human rights of the marginalised section are ensured and protected by a Nation then only, we can say that it is a maker of a live democracy[28]. In retrospect we can conclude with the famous quote of Martin Luther King, “Injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere”.

[1] The central act for the street vendors of India passed in the year 2014.

[2] ‘Bombay Hawkers’ Union and Ors. v. Bombay Municipal Corporation, 1985,’ (Supreme Court of India, July 3)

[3] ‘National Policy on Urban Street Vendors 2006’ (http://dcmsme.gov.in/street1%20Vendors%20policy.pdf (Accessed on 15th February 2022)

[4] ‘The Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014’

[5] https://nasvinet.org/statistics-the-street -vendors-2/ (Accessed on 3rd May 2022)

[6] Sankrit, Ruchi, SEWA Bharat and Street Vendors in Delhi: Inclusive Cities Project, 2015,August.

[7] Narang, Prashant, and Vidushi Sabharwal “Do Street Vendors have a Right to the City?” 2019.

[8] United Nations, https://www.un.org/en/global-issues/human-rights (Accessed on 18.5.2022)

[9] https://pib.gov.in/newsite/printrelease.aspx?relid=103949 (Accessed on 26.05.2022)

[10] Section 27 of the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014


[11] Panwar Manoj, Issues and Challenges faced by street vendors on urban streets: A case of Sonipat City, India, IIT, Roorkee.

[12] Bhowmik Prof. Sharit K and Saha Debdulal, Financial Accessibility of the street vendors in India: Cases of Inclusion and exclusion, http://www.wiego.org/sites/default/files/publications/files/Bhowmik_Saha_StreetVendors_India_UNDP-TISS.pdf (Accessed on 21.04.2022)

[13] Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation (1985)3 SCC 545

[14] AIR 1968 SC 133

[15] (2004)1 SCC 625

[16] (2010) 10 SCC 715

[17] (1989) 4 SCC 155

[18] Ibid.

[19] Singh Majithia Avi, Impact of COVID-19 on Street Vendors of India: Status and steps for advocacy, WEIGO, July 2020.

[20] https://www.news.18.com/news/opinion/how-street-vendors-are-providing-to-be-last-line-of-defense-restoring-supply-chain-affected-by-covid-19-lockdown-2554597.html (Accessed on 3rd February 2021)

[21] https://pmsvanidhi.mohua.gov.in/ (last visited on 22.5.2022)

[22] Bhowmik Prof. Sharit K, Street Vendors in Asia: A Review, in Economic and Political Weekly, May 28-June 4, 2005

[23] Prasanna Karthik, Mint, 12th April 2021https://www.livemint.com/opinion/online-views/empower-street-vendors-to-get-india-s-urban-economy-moving-11618244536097.html  (Accessed on 30.8.2023)

[24] Ibid

[25] https://www.orfonline.org/research/strengthening-urban-indias-informal-economy-the-case-of-street-vending/ (Accessed on 27th May 2022)

[26] (2004)1 SCC 625

[27] Progress Report 2020, can be accessed in https:ccs.in/sites/default/files/progress-report-2020-implementing-the-street-vendors-act.pdf

[28] https://nasvinet.org/street-vendors-human-rights-charter/ (Accessed on 21.04.2022)

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