As the mercury rises above 45 degrees Celsius, claiming over 2,000 lives, street vendors in India not only suffer from the heat, but also face the erosion of their livelihoods.
India’s roughly 10 million street vendors play an integral role in the economy. Self-employed, they are an important source of affordable and accessible goods and services for all segments of society. They account for 11 percent of total urban employment in the country. With intense heat waves brought on by global climate change, steps must be taken to make street vending a more sustainable livelihood during summer months in India.
These months prove difficult for vendors as fewer people venture out on the streets, preferring air-conditioned malls instead. Food vendors in particular face a major setback as their goods are more susceptible to spoilage in the heat.
Provision of simple facilities could go a long way in supporting street vendors during the kinds of heat waves India has witnessed recently: access to potable water for hydration and food preparation; storage facilities to reduce spoilage; and sanitation facilities – including functional public restrooms. These facilities would also ensure basic hygiene for vendors and their customers, ensuring that rising temperatures do not lead to the growth of bacteria and viruses.
Provision of these basic services to street vendors was part of the Street Vendors Act (Protection of Livelihood and Regulations of Street Vending, 2014). The act first of all provides a system for the certification of street vendors. Certified street vendors cannot be evicted by the police and must pay maintenance charges to be used for sanitation, water and storage facilities in designated vending zones. They are also entitled to welfare schemes that provide them with credit and insurance.
The ideas are good, but the implementation has been lacklustre. A majority of street vendors have not been certified. They find the registration process cumbersome, do not have the documents required, or refuse to take time off to register as they already straddle the poverty line. Without this certification, they are not entitled to the facilities that would support them. Even among the registered vendors, many do not have access to the facilities due to poor implementation of the law by local bodies.
Policymakers must recognize that the heatwave does not only impact the livelihoods of farmers and daily-wage labourers. Any strategy to mitigate the negative effects of climate change on livelihoods should also incorporate urban street vendors. A first start would be fixing the issues of the 2014 law and ensuring provision of basic facilities.
Without proper support, the work of India’s 10 million street vendors will become more precarious as the country’s cities – and the planet – heat up.