In conversation with Mr. Arbind Singh, National Coordinator, NASVI
4 minutes read
The National Association of Street Vendors of India or NASVI, for short, is the first national-level organization in India that works specifically for the protection of the livelihood rights of thousands of street vendors across the country. Beginning as a Network in 1998, it is a coalition of Trade Unions, Community Based Organizations (CBOs), Non-Government Organizations (NGOs), and professionals. Presently, NASVI has 5,28,645 members from 888 organizations in various states of India.
NASVI was established with the aim of bringing together street vendor organizations from across the country to amplify their voices and demand macro-level changes necessary to support the livelihoods of around 10 million vendors which stand severely threatened due to outdated laws and changing policies, practices, and attitudes of the powers that be.
In order to further explore and understand the functioning of this singular organization, we decided to confer with Mr. Arbind Singh, the National Coordinator of NASVI:
Present Situation of the Street Vending Industry
Street vending is an indispensable segment of the Indian economy. Yet, its contribution to the country’s economic activity is grossly undervalued and overlooked by authorities and civilians alike. “The present situation of the industry is certainly problematic and the Covid-19 pandemic has made it even worse.”, says Mr. Singh. “The impact is particularly worse for people with a lower income base. Currently, due to the lockdown, there are a number of restrictions with respect to the location, number of vendors and timings. Even when they are able to sell, there aren’t enough customers due to the soaring prices and decrease in overall income. Many vendors have used up their working capital, which is a major issue. Presently, only the disaster management laws are in force and everything is tuned according to that. Gradually, the Street Vending law is getting implemented with the ease in restrictions.”
Since its inception, NASVI has committed to strive for creating an incentivized environment for the street vendors to carry out their legitimate vending. “We work at two levels”, continues Mr. Singh, “ The first one consists of macro level policy changes. We engage with governments- both national and state, municipal bodies. We also go to court, if the need arises. The second level involves specific intervention in case of certain crises, eviction threats, economic downturns, etc. NASVI has helped bring about many improvements in the industry- walking zones have been introduced in many areas, certificates and identity cards have been issued to vendors. The Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014 has provided better protection to them and around 2,800 Town Vending Committees (TVCs) have been set up in India.” Members of NASVI include trade unions, community based organizations, NGOs along with professionals like lawyers, teachers, doctors and social activists who have been working for the empowerment and development of street vendors. “In order to ensure maximum outreach, we have organized the vendors in specific regions into groups and our member organizations in those regions help their respective groups.”
Street Vending and Covid-19
Even during the pandemic and the ensuing lockdown, members of NASVI have been constantly putting in efforts to ensure better treatment of vendors. Mr. Singh says, “We have been very active on social media in order to spread awareness, we are writing letters to the Prime Minister, Chief Ministers, urban housing experts and other concerned authorities seeking relief and demanding help, etc. We were hoping that the government would provide cash transfers which did not happen, unfortunately. The only good outcome was that fruit and vegetable sellers were considered as “essential suppliers”. Despite this, a number of problems arose- local administrations were very restrictive, non-vendors also sneaked in and started selling produce, among others. Finally, the ‘Pradhan Mantri Street Vendor’s Atmanirbhar Nidhi Scheme’ was implemented as a part of the economic package for those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown wherein the government provided Rs. 10,000 loans to vendors. This has helped in organizing street vendors. Municipal corporations are under pressure to create lists of vendors and provide them identity cards.”
NASVI has to overcome a number of challenges on a regular basis. “The foremost challenge for us is the municipal government. The state of street vending can improve only when their stance on this industry improves. When it comes to their role in the landscape, it is a big, big disappointment. The second major challenge for us is the prevalence of mafia in this sector. They harass the vendors and extort money from them. The vendors silently bear this form of exploitation because of fear. Organizing them is another crucial issue. It gets really tough because a large fraction of vendors are migrants and have really busy schedules. Fourth challenge is getting them access to financial services ”
Women Street Vendors
“Female street vendors certainly have it worse vis-a-vis their male counterparts. Women deal with perishable goods more than non-perishable ones due to which they have less working capital. They are more vulnerable to exploitation. We focus specifically on organizing female street vendors. In fact, in NASVI’s constitution, we have a provision as per which one-third of the street vending committee members must be women. The same goes for town vending committees. Moreover, there are reservations for women vendors when it comes to issuing identity cards and space in public vending zones.”
“Our primary objective for the next two years is to ensure that the Street Vendors Act, 2014 is fully implemented in all parts of the country. We have worked very hard so far and we will continue to do so.”
About the expert
Mr. Arbind Singh is a social entrepreneur and activist working with informal workers in India. A master degree holder from Delhi School of Economics, Mr. Arbind Singh always had a passion to work for the unorganized sectors of India and he initiated the same in his home state Bihar. Mr. Arbind Singh initiated National Association of Street Vendors of India (NASVI)in 1998. Under the sheer leadership of Mr. Arbind Singh, NASVI has been intensely working for the promotion and protection of the interest of the street vendors from across the country. It was with NASVI’s unrelenting efforts along with other interventions that the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014 came into being.