Street food culture has been in India since ancient times. Many people make a living by selling street food.  There are reportedly 20 lakh street food vendors in India, according to the Ministry of Urban Poverty Alleviation, Government of India.  It is considered one of the oldest informal sector occupations . Street food vendors provide significant contributions to our cities’ economies, societies, and cultures. In large cities, street foods can be a significant source of food for many urban dwellers, both in terms of energy intake and food expenditure (IFPRI 1998). It opens up new horizons of economic activity by promoting micro-entrepreneurship, which can help with the unemployment issue.  In India, street vendors contribute around 7% of the country’s GDP, according to a study by the  National Association of Street Vendors of India (NASVI). Despite this, one of the biggest problems in cities is recognising and regulating street vending.  Every city has a diverse selection of street food booths. Kochi City is no exception. As per Kochi Municipal corporation records, Kochi has around 900 street food vendors serving a variety of flavours. 

The Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act of 2014 protects the rights of street vendors in India. According to the Act, the Town Vending Committee (TVC), which works under the local municipality,  has the authority to earmark space for vending zones  and to designate vending zones as restriction-free vending zones (where street vendors can vend for 24 hours), restricted vending zones (specific time periods when vending is permitted), and no-vending zones. Vendors and hawkers will be surveyed every five years, receive identification cards, and be assigned to a TVC-approved vending zone.  Aside from providing a well-organised work environment, the proposed vending zones are aimed at providing a continuous source of income for street food vendors.

The Kochi Town Vending Committee has chosen 65 vending zones spanning across the city. However, Kochi Municipal Corporation faces a monumental challenge in relocating a total of 2353 vendors along the route, including the 900 street food vendors stated above. 

According to the findings of the study conducted as part of Youth Leadership Fellowship on ‘the profiling of street food vendors in Panampilly Nagar’, street food vendors are not convinced and are not looking forward to the promised vending zones.  This is due to a variety of factors. First and foremost, they are concerned about losing their regular customers. Furthermore, sellers believe that the designated vending zones are far from the city centre, rendering the entire system ineffective.  In Panampilly Nagar, KMC has identified two vending zones: one special vending zone to the west of Panampilly Triangle that is 30 metres long, and one near Dharambir Enclave that is 12 metres long.  These two vending zones are 1 kilometre away from the busiest areas of Panampilly Nagar, and they are situated at the end of Panampilly Avenue main road. The proposed vending zones do not even have adequate space to accommodate all the street food vendors of Panampilly Nagar or enough space for parking to provide the vendors with the bare necessities in terms of infrastructure. It is like hiding the most vibrant food spots from the busiest streets of Panampilly Nagar and hindering the vendors from getting customers. The Indian Parliament’s Standing Committee on Urban Development submitted a report to Parliament on the Street Vendors Act’s implementation, advising urban local bodies to identify vacant places near parks, community centres, and other amenities and demarcate and notify them as vending zones or markets. This would provide opportunities for street merchants. According to the report, vending zones that are far from city centres are a waste of resources.

Way forward

Panampilly Nagar has well-designed roads with adequate width and well-connected service roads. At present, Panampilly Nagar hosts around 30 street food vendors. It will be difficult to relocate all 30 into the proposed two vending zones. The total length of two proposed vending zones is 42 metres. The maximum number of street food vendors that can be accommodated within 10 metres of length is 4, considering the spaces in between vending carts. In that way, only 16 vendors can be accommodated in the two proposed vending zones. The rest of the street food vendors should be accommodated in the existing vending zones, considering those spaces as additional vending zones. The street food vendors can be classified into different clusters based on the products they sell and can be relocated. The vendors who acquired a recent licence and those who inadvertently encroached on the road can be relocated to the new vending zones. Additionally, the street food vendors of Panampilly Nagar should follow using standardised size of vending carts to ensure consistent  space utilisation of 25 square feet  to secure a level playing field for all the street food vendors. And to ensure water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) in the workplace, KMC should take immediate action.

Likewise, the creation of  a conducive environment for the street food vendors to grow their businesses will make them the key enablers of economic development and further boost the economy of Kochi.

(This article was first featured in Kerala Kaumudi Newspaper)

The author is a youth leadership fellow at CPPR

Views expressed by the author are personal and need not reflect or represent the views of the Centre for Public Policy Research.

Deepa Prabha
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