Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91

Vol. XXXII No. 1, April 16-30, 2022

Corporation attempts a balancing act on vendors

-- by A Special Correspondent

The Corporation has identified 905 vending zones and 4,700 non-vending zones in Chennai city. “We have begun enforcing the rules,” said Commissioner Gagandeep Singh Bedi in a quote to the media and true enough, reports have come in of several shops that have been evicted from the designated non-vending zones in areas such as NSC Bose Road in Parrys and Rajamannar Salai in KK Nagar. The exercise draws its guidelines from the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act of 2014,which not only regulates street vendors in public spaces but also safeguards their rights to engage in commerce.

An enumeration drive is reported to have identified 39,217 vendors in the city. Corporation deputy commissioner Vishu Mahajan said tenders to enumerate vendors would be called again this year. “Every street is different and vendors are of various categories. We need to create exclusive streets. All this would be done under the National Urban Livelihood Mission and we will finalize the number of vendors per zone,” he is quoted to have said.

The Corporation’s exercise has predictably drawn disappointment from vendors, most of whom seem threatened by the move. It was reported that the State General Secretary of the Tamil Nadu Street Vending Workers Federation wrote to Chief Minister M.K. Stalin, requesting that the drive be executed along the guidelines enshrined in the Street Vendors Act. It is reported that he said, “A vendor in Koyambedu market recently committed suicide because of the eviction drive. And several such drives at Marina Beach and the adjoining Loop Road have adversely affected the livelihood of these vendors who have been doing business in these locations for more than 20 years. The officials should follow the Act as all these vendors have legal vending certificates.”

On the other hand, residents of localities in which vending zones have been identified worry about the changes the move may bring. Already, residents of Kasturba Nagar have made a representation to the zonal office and the local police station, requesting that the three roads in their neighbourhood – First Main Road, Third Main Road and Third Cross Road – be reconsidered from their current designation as vending zones. They fear that the already bad traffic congestion will only worsen. S. Gopi, Secretary of Civic and Welfare Association, Kodambakkam pointed out to the media that vendors should take the responsibility to maintain the areas allotted to them. He worries that the regulatory measures will only ‘remain on paper.’

With the interests of residents and vendors seemingly in conflict with each other, it does look like the administration has a tough task on its hands. However, it is important to understand that the hyper-local economy of street vending is crucial to not just the vendors who depend on it for their livelihoods, but also to the city. For the vulnerable residents of our city who cannot afford to shop at large-format stores or travel long distances – the elderly, the disabled, the underprivileged – it is each locality’s street vendors who offer access to essential goods at reasonable prices. During the lockdowns, it was the unorganized vendors of staples, produce, dairy and other essentials who came to the aid of citizens cooped up in their homes. That is not to say that street vending is without its issues – the ensuing encroachment of footpaths, traffic congestion and waste management are valid concerns. Chennai and her people – residents and street vendors – will be best served by a street vending plan formulated with inputs from all stakeholders. A well-researched plan will no doubt bring tangible benefits to the city if only it goes beyond simple zonal divisions to design a solution that optimizes the civic and economic impact it stands to bring.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *