Friday, March 09, 2012

Street Food Vending Policy- A case study of Kochi


                     
Prepared by Sidharth. S. Kumar, intern at Centre for Public Policy Research

Street food vendors have been a part of Kochi’s food culture since time immemorial. These vendors run street eateries which are popularly known among the inhabitants as ‘thattukada’. Thattukadas serve palatable indigenous flavours. They daily feed several thousands of customers belonging to various segments of the society and age groups. Street food is a treasure house of local culinary traditions and is increasingly playing an important role as an enhancer and force multiplier of tourism sector. [1] These vendors operate, mostly, at evenings or nights. They cater to the needs of night travellers, labourers and immigrant bachelors and were even successful in promoting the fast food culture in the city. The youth of the city also choose to eat out at a street eatery due to the night ambience available there. They provide easy access to food for the inhabitants at reasonable prices.

Apart from serving delicious delicacies at affordable prices to the customers, these eateries also provide livelihood to many. According to Mr. Abdullah, secretary of Ernakulam Street Food Vendors Association, there are around 300 vendors in Kochi[2]. Most of these vendors have been serving hot and fresh food for the night lovers of the city for more than a couple of decades. It thus performs an economic function of sustaining livelihood of many families and plays a major role in urban poverty alleviation.

Despite all these utilities and service rendered by the street food vendors for the society, they are considered as an excluded class of entrepreneurs. They do not get due recognition for the economic and social functions they perform. Due to poverty, unemployment and forced migration and immigration, despite the useful service they render to society, they are looked upon as a hindrance to the planned development of cities both by the elite urbanities and the town planners alike.[3]

 In Kochi, the Cochin Municipal Corporation (CMC) is reluctant to grant licences for street food vending within its jurisdiction. Traffic congestion and health concerns are two major claims raised in support of this policy of non-recognition of street vendors. Hence, street food vendors in Kochi, do not have a legal recognition. The vendors are tormented mentally by the civic officials with threats of eviction. They are treated as illegal entities and miscreants. Officials and citizens often tend to degrade the hygiene of, the food served in such eateries and the environment surrounding those. Other major causes of caution are, the quality of water provided for drinking in these eateries and the methods of solid waste disposal adopted by them.

The plight of street food vendors in Kochi is set to improve with government intervention. The Government of Kerala introduced Kerala State Policy for Street vendors following the guidelines laid out in the National Policy for Urban Street Vendors (2009), in June 2011. The CMC had launched a scheme known as Safe Food City-Cochin in 2008, for rehabilitating street food vendors in the city.
This report will explain, how legal recognition can be accorded to the street food vendors of Kochi, by expanding the Safe Food City project. Street vendors are one such faction of the society who has not received the trickling benefits of the liberalisation regime unveiled in the early 90s. Their plight can be improved by registering them under the CMC through a Town Vending Committee (TVC). The concept of TVC was a success in Bhubaneswar, Orissa. The Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation (BMC) successfully organized a TVC to support street entrepreneurs. Following this precedence, the CMC can also ensure the success of the project by establishing a strong TVC. All through the course of this project, executors must bear in mind that TVC is not another agency to bang the street vendors with heavy regulations and procedures. It should finally take the shape of a facilitating agency and should act like one.

DRAWBACKS OF THE SCHEME
The scheme is in the most elementary stage and do not have a detailed plan for sustaining the results of the project nor encouraging the entrepreneurial skills of the street food  vendors.
The role of the TVC has not been properly identified and it has not been put to complete operation. Till date, the current TVC has met only two times for discussing about the topic. The National Policy of Urban Street Vendors (hereafter, the Policy) envisages TVC as an active mechanism to monitor and facilitate the activities of the street vendors. Going according to the Policy, the right mode of operation should have been the organisation of an active and representative TVC and entrusting it with the task of implementing the scheme.
Hawking zones, which are crucial for accommodating all the street food vendors, have not been identified and demarcated. The officials feel that vending zones can be demarcated after at the end of the process. This process is important as it calls for optimum utilisation of limited sidelines beside the congested roads of the city. The vendors can be accommodated, without causing hindrance to pedestrians, only once hawking zones are scientifically designed.
The Government of Kerala (GoK) is lethargic about introduction of a legislation to aid the street vendors. Even though GoK unveiled the state’s street vendor policy in July, it did not taken the initiative in introducing the bill in the subsequent session of the legislative assembly.  Such a legislative measure would have given a statutory backing to the scheme.
The scheme does not require a complete overhaul but initiating certain measures would ensure continuity and, eventually, success of the scheme.

IMPROVING THE SCHEME
The scheme can be improved through actions at both state government and corporation levels. Though the major chunk of activity should be carried out by the CMC, state government can support it through various means.
First of all, the objective of the scheme should be restated. Instead of considering it as a rehabilitation scheme for street food vendors, shape it as a scheme for realizing the economic potential of street food vendors. Street vendors should not be considered as illegitimate and impoverished faction of society who can be brought to the mainstream by providing mere financial assistance and technical aid. They should be considered as entrepreneurs who lack the resources to begin or expand their ventures. They need to be given every possible soft skill and technical support along with sufficient financial assistance. Also, instead of regulating the business of street food vendors, they should be allowed to work on the basis of natural principles of market. The government must act as a guide to develop the entrepreneurs.
Keeping this objective in mind, the Government of Kerala should enact the URBAN STREET VENDORS (PROTECTION OF LIVELIHOOD AND REGULATION OF STREET VENDING) BILL, 2011 (hereafter the Bill). The bill would provide a statutory backing for the scheme and in fact, to any similar scheme for street vendors across the state. The bill mandates the state government to formulate appropriate schemes for the benefit of the street vendors. The next important feature is the statutory support provided by the bill for the Town Vending Committee. It stipulates several guidelines for the formation and organisation of the TVC. The bill empowers the state government to constitute Town Vending Dispute Redressal Forum for each TVC. Further, the bill has provisions to constitute a State Appellate Authority for accepting appeals from the District Forums. The bill also lays down the regulations for identifying Vending Zones and for registering and issuing licences for the vendors. Thus, the bill constitutes a long term solution for the whole set of problems faced by the street vendor fraternity of the state.

The most crucial step to be adopted by the CMC is that of constituting a Town Vending Committee (TVC) as an autonomous body. The prevailing TVC is deemed to be an integral part of the project. It is not considered as a pivotal point around which the whole project should be set up. Since, the Bill is still not enacted the TVC should be constituted through a council resolution in order to give it a statutory position. Then, the project should be transferred to the TVC. The TVC should implement the project with the aid and guidance of KSUDP and allied agencies.

VENDING ZONES:
Vending zones can be termed as the lifeline of the project. The place of business determines the volume and profit to a large extend. The vendors accumulate at a place which gives them maximum number of customers. They may not be able to function properly once they are displaced from their present vending areas. Hence, there should be complete consensus between the vendors and the TVC in the matter of demarcating vending zones. While identifying vending zones the TVC should declare present vending locations as vending zones, as far as possible. It calls for planning and developing such areas so as to avoid uneasiness to the public. If at all the present vending locations cannot be declared as vending zones, the TVC should take care to minimise the displacement area. The applicants must be allotted vending zones of their choice. Moreover, vending zones should not be considered as a tool to restrict the movement of the vendors. Rather, it should be followed as a mechanism to inculcate order in the vending locations. The vendors must be given the option to change their vending zone once he/she does not find the business profitable at the present vending zone.

REGIONAL VENDING COMMITTEE:
The TVC is a centralised and formal setup. It should not be burdened with minor grievances of the vendors. A Regional Vending Committee can be set up in lines of a Self Help Group (SHG) to deal with such issues. The regional committee would comprise of the street food vendors of a particular area. If there is not sufficient number of vendors in a particular area, two or more nearby areas can be amalgamated to form a regional committee. It can promote co-operation among the vendors and ensure a system of mutual check over the compliance of traders. The TVC need not interact directly with the vendors every time. The Regional Vending Committees may act as a channel between individual vendors and the TVC. The TVC can disperse the funds and the benefits of social security schemes through these committees.   A collective responsibility may be placed on the Regional Vending Committees to keep a tab on the activities of each of its members. This will gradually lead to self compliance of morals and guidelines on the part of the street food vendors.

CONSTITUTE TVC AS AN AUTONOMOUS BODY:

The concept of constituting ‘TVC as an autonomous unit’ is important. Complete autonomy should be granted to TVC in administrative matters while partial autonomy may be granted in financial matters. Let us look into these aspects in detail.

Administrative and regulatory autonomy simply means that the TVC would be solely responsible for identifying vending zones, registering the vendors, issuing guidelines for the vendors, organizing regional vending committees, initiating welfare and social security measures for the vendors and conducting technical and skill up gradation trainings.

Financial autonomy implies the power to levy fees for registration, renewal of registration and for the services provided at hawking zones, providing financial assistance and formulating social security measures.
The autonomy of the TVC doesn’t mean that it will have a dominant power over the vendors. It only implies decentralised decision making power for aiding or supporting the street vendors.
Extensive preparations need to be made before conferring such autonomy over the TVC. The TVC can be divided into two parts, viz., Monitoring Committee (MC) and Executive Wing (EW). MC is representative in character and would be responsible for monitoring the execution of the project and for taking policy decisions. The EW would comprise of the executives who would be implementing the scheme in actual sense and would be responsible and subordinate to the MC. 

The composition of the MC must be so as to facilitate the aforesaid financial and regulatory functions. The TVC should be headed by the Corporation Secretary as he/she is the authority who grants licenses for any commercial activity within the corporation limit. Health officer must be appointed as an Ex-Officio Member for considering the health aspects, hygiene of vending environment and quality of food materials sold. One member (not below the rank of Asst. Commissioner) each from local and traffic departments of police should be included as Ex-Officio Members in order to seek advice over traffic management and law and order issues. Town Planning Officer from Greater Cochin Development Authority (GCDA) should be included as Ex-Officio Member and he/she can help in identification and preparation of vending zones in the city. The Revenue Officer of the CMC can be an Ex-Officio Member and can advise the committee on fee and levy related matters. Atleast 10 members of the TVC should comprise of representatives of street vendors. They can be nominated from regional vending committee among the vendors who are registered as street vendor by the TVC or registered associations of street vendors. The Health Standing Committee chairman and Town Planning Committee Chairman can also be nominated by the council. An Official (not below the rank of Asst.Manager) should be nominated by the bank which provides loan to the vendors, subject to the approval of the majority of rest of the members of the TVC, in order to ensure better compliance of EMI repayment and to seek advice over monetary matters. The representative of the bank would not have a right vote. Members of NGOs and resident welfare associations can be included as part time members. They will not have right to vote in the committee. Thus, the TVC has both popular and official representation.


CONCLUSION
At present, the street food vendors suffer a great deal due to the lack of resources and expertise and the illegal nature of their profession. The Safe Food City project, initiated by the CMC is definitely a crucial scheme to uplift the impoverished street food vendors of the city. This report lays down the means to sustain and develop the profession of street food vending through the extension of the very same project. The illicit nature of street food vendors can be abandoned by registering them under a TVC. A transparent, vendor friendly and time bound procedure must be adopted to register the vendors and identifying vending zones. Apart from registration, TVC can undertake a slew of other measures to support the development of the entrepreneurship of the street food vendors including basic amenities at venue of trade and social security measures like insurance. The report also addresses the issue of vending zones. Vending zones may turn out as a bone of contention between the vendors and the officials and will jeopardise the scheme. Hence, vending zones should be determined after reaching a consensus with the applicants.

Finally, the objective of the TVC should not be to impose restraints over the vendors in the form of rules and regulations. The registration should give them legal sanction and the powers and actions of the TVC should build up a conducive environment for any person to start and expand street food vending business.

  

[1]  GUIDELINES FOR THE SCHEME OF "UPGRADATION OF THE QUALITY OF STREET FOOD";  Government of India, Ministry of Food Processing Industries
[2] Karun Shenoy. 2011. Kochi gulps down street food worth 9 cr in 2 month. The Times Of India. 20 September.
[3] THE BELLAGIO INTERNATIONAL DECLARATION OF STREET VENDORS

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