Is street vending a legally well managed business?

We might be aware that the sidewalks we walk on are places for some people to base their lives on. While we rant about the footpaths being congested by vendors occupying the spaces, those sellers feel grateful for that little space which helps them earn their living.

People who are not able to afford rented shops too have mouths to feed and the need for a source of survival. When such people aren’t provided with better solutions to run a well managed source of income, they are forced to act against the law. Anybody would choose to live over choosing to obey the law.

What are the priorities of the state in the trade sector? Why is street vending still a legally uncertain occupation? What have the local governments been doing to make the streets of their cities well managed without forcing somebody’s livelihood to go unaddressed?


The concept behind street vending

The Oxford Dictionary explains the term street vendor as “a person who sells something in the street either from a stall or van or with the goods laid out on the sidewalk.” The Cambridge Dictionary clarifies that such vending may also be illegal sometimes. Normally street vendors affix a regular location but they may also be on the move. Street vendors and hawkers differ from each other in this aspect. 

For decades, street vendors have been an important part of the informal economy. Scholars generally regard the informal economy as a sign of economic backwardness or as a barrier to economic development. Meanwhile, in emerging and low-income nations, the informal sector is swiftly contributing to the reduction of unemployment and poverty.

Most debates on street vending are split into either the Reformist or Marxist theoretical discourses within the informal sector. According to the reformist perspective, street vending helps in economic progress by alleviating poverty and unemployment. On the flipside, Marxist theory does not recognize the informal sector's contribution to the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The Modernisation Theory considers street vending as a residue of a bygone period, but the Structuralists see it as a last-ditch survival attempt pushed by economic necessity in the absence of alternative means of sustenance. However, for some people street vending is an entrepreneurial choice rather than a survival strategy.

Countries where street vending is a thing and how it is being managed

Domestic and international attitudes to street vending differ greatly from one country to the next. Many nations officially regulate this practice, offering a clear legal framework and jurisdictional mandates, whilst others have overlapping jurisdictional mandates, causing confusion and conflict, and still others consider street vending to be unlawful. In a few cases reported in Malawi, Nigeria, Zambia and Indonesia, not only street vending has been criminalised but so has been the act of buying from such vendors.

Articles 6 and 7 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), a multilateral instrument, safeguard the rights of street vendors. The Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (CESCR), which supervises the covenant, stipulates as a basic state obligation "the right of access to work, particularly for disadvantaged and marginalised persons and groups, allowing them to live a life of dignity."

The International organisations like Streetnet International, International Domestic Workers Network, International Transport Workers’ Federation (WIEGO), Latin American Waste Picker Network (Red Lacre), Global Alliance of Waste Pickers, and Home Net South Asia work in the favour of informal workers. They aid the street vending service and the street vendors consequently by promoting advocacy for their rights, forming a global network, reconciling with the city authorities for improved working conditions and such.

Street vending is more popular in the South Asian part of the world. There are 10 million street vendors in India, according to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation. South Korea, Singapore, Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia and the like countries also are known ones in terms of street vending popularity.The count is 2.2 million in South Africa where the workforce contributing to the informal economy is strongly organised.

The states have been prioritising street vending as and when required:

  • In 1997’s Economic Recession in Bangkok, Thailand, people were forced into Street Food Trade to support employment.
  • The economic difficulties in the 1990s made Kuala Lumpur's Mayor to set aside restrictive street business licences and create more dedicated spaces for street vending.
  • In Durban, South Africa, the vendors cooperate with the police in reporting crimes or their possibility which has resulted in a lessened number of crimes there.

India has a separate Act for the regulation of the street vending business titled ‘Street Vendors Act 2014’. Other countries like Argentina, Brazil, the UK, New Zealand, Philippines, the US, Canada, Hong Kong, Columbia, etc. have their own forms of laws, bylaws, regulatory guides and policies framed for the facilitation of the street business.

The Supreme Court of India stated in Sodan Singh v. New Delhi Municipal Corporation that street sellers "considerably add to the comfort and convenience of the general people by making common products of everyday use available at a substantially lower price." 


Provisions in Nepal regarding street vending

Despite the assignment of regulating these street vending bodies left to the local authorities, the conditions of setting up their stalls is still not satisfactory to the vendors as they are always in the fear of seizure or of being shooed away. 

Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) has as recently as May 18 of 2022 passed a new by-law which provides for the permanent seizures of illegally set up stalls which replaced the policy of penalising by fine from Rs. 100 upto Rs. 15000 based on the valuation of the goods. 

The Nepalese Constitution guarantees all citizens the right to employment. Outlawing street vending breaches not only the Constitution, these street vending boycotting laws do not seem to even endorse the ICESCR provisions which Nepal had ratified in 1991 AD.

The inconsistent rules to which street vendors are subjected in areas of Nepal have little to no significance. In the absence of a fixed rigid legal framework managing the street vendors in Nepal, their businesses cannot be registered, hence relieving them from tax burden but suffering additional costs in the form of untimely and uncontrolled penalties, commodity seizure and the fear of eviction after harassment.

Roadside businesses could run in a secured manner if we could find a way to incorporate them in the legal mainstream. This would not be doing much considering that 60 percent of Nepal’s employed population occupies the informal sector, according to an ILO study.



Street vendors are perceived mosty as street congesters who destroy the aesthetic quality of a place and lead to poor environmental sanitation.The upside of the street vending businesses shouldn’t escape our notice. So far, they have been an integral part of local economies, providing self-employment opportunities for people of all ages while also being pocket friendly for low-income people.The Supreme Court of India stated in Sodan Singh v. New Delhi Municipal Corporation that street sellers "considerably add to the comfort and convenience of the general people by making common products of everyday use available at a substantially lower price." 

 The pollution, destruction of aestheticism and the problem of congestion are manageable ones. That which will be hard to manage are the criminal activities which will result when people are denied their economic rights they are entitled to by the virtue of being humans. That which will be harder to manage are accusations of denying free and open competitions, right to work and non-discrimination laws they are entitled to by the virtue of being citizens of the state and members of the global community.

One of the major concerns surrounding street vending legislation is the regulation of public spaces, which are areas that are supposedly free to anyone to use and enjoy indiscriminately. As a result, a tough balance must be struck between the right of access to public areas and the need to travel around the city, on the one hand, and the right of street vendors to work and earn a livelihood, on the other. There is no "one size fits all" approach; prospective solutions must be tailored to the local circumstances.