Amid Telangana din, no time for street vendor's bill in Rajya Sabha!

Street vendors from across India on indefinite hunger strike for passage of bill that promises to put an end to harassment by civic authorities, cops

shivangi-narayan

Shivangi Narayan | February 18, 2014


Low on priority for MPs but who decides that? Street vendors sell their wares at Raghubir Nagar in west Delhi.
Low on priority for MPs but who decides that? Street vendors sell their wares at Raghubir Nagar in west Delhi.

Twenty-eight street vendors from Delhi, Patna, Jabalpur, Jaipur, and Ludhiana among other parts of India are on an indefinite hunger strike at Jantar Mantar in the national capital from Monday (February 17), demanding passage of the street vendors (protection of livelihood and regulation of street vending) bill, 2012. This, they say, would end the triple harassment they face every day – from the police, civic authorities and the government.

Passed by the Lok Sabha, the bill promises to provide legal protection to street vendors to sell their wares without facing harassment. It is now languishing in the Rajya Sabha. The Telangana issue, and the subsequent uproar due to , kept the bill from being taken up for discussion on the scheduled date of February 11.

Though deputy chairman of Rajya Sabha PJ Kurien has characterised the bill as being “non-controversial”, the ongoing pandemonium in parliament has made sure that it does not get the time it deserves.

The hunger strike is being facilitated by the national association of street vendors of India (Nasvi) and self-employed women’s association (Sewa). Sewa is protesting on behalf of 1.7 million self-employed women who are part of the organisation.

Ramashankar, a street vendor from Jabalpur, said the hunger strike is their last recourse to make sure that the bill is passed by parliament in the current session. “We demand that the bill – which started as ‘street vendors policy’, 2004, and was later revised as ‘national policy on urban street vendors’, 2009 – should be passed in parliament to end harassment of street vendors,” he said.

Another street vendor, Kanchan Devi from Delhi, said she joined the strike after the police asked her to raise the bribe to Rs 5,000 that she earlier paid them every month.

Girija Vyas, minister of housing and urban poverty alleviation, and Congress MP Priya Dutt met the protestors at Jantar Mantar on Monday and asked them to repeal the strike. However, the street vendors have refused to end their agitation until the bill is passed by Rajya Sabha.

With uproar over Telangana and many other ‘high-priority’ bills pending, parliament is going to be busy till February 21 – the last day of the session. In such a scenario, passage of street vendor’s bill seems a distant dream. Along with being non-controversial, passage of the bill also does not promise any brownie points for the government. If not passed, it would have to wait till a new government takes over after the general elections, scheduled to be held in April-May.

And if that happens, street vendors will have to wait for years before they get any legal backing for their livelihood and put an end to harassment that awaits them each day on the streets.

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