YLS clinic helps Indian street vendors

For its first trip abroad since it started this year, a Yale Law School clinic traveled to India this January to protect the rights of the country’s street vendors.

Yale’s Transnational Development Clinic collaborated with India’s Self-Employed Women’s Association — a non-governmental organization that primarily protects women whose work is unregulated — to suggest policy regulating street vending. Clinic members interviewed said they found that the right of vendors to sell their goods must be balanced against the right of pedestrians to have free passage on streets where vendors work.

“The clinic is interested in exploring what productive work lawyers can do to address global poverty issues,” Professor and Clinic Director Muneer Ahmad said. “This project provided the opportunity for us to engage in progressive development work in another country.”

Their work followed a recent Indian Supreme Court case, Gainda Ram v. Municipal Corporation of Delhi, in which the court ruled against efforts to end street sales and declared that vending is a fundamental right. The ruling established a June 30, 2011 deadline by which the nation must draft legislation protecting the rights of street vendors, but it is not yet clear if municipal or federal government must write the new laws. The Transnational Development Clinic recommends that India’s parliament implement the legislation.

Before arriving in India, the clinic surveyed jurisdictions around the world, including Ghana, Mexico City and Trinidad, to find successful examples of street vendor regulations. Clinic members presented their findings at a January conference in New Delhi attended by lawyers, government officials and street vending groups.

“One of our findings was that governments should not try to prohibit vending in places were it naturally occurs” such as outside schools or hospitals, Ahmad said. “Trying to prohibit vending in these areas always fails because there is an actual demand for the goods. It is a recipe for failure.”

While in India, Ahmad said the group met with organizers from the Self-Employed Women’s Association, police and city officials to discuss the rights of street vendors. Additionally, the group visited markets where street vending occurs and spoke to street vendors, he added.

Tienmu Ma LAW ’12 said meeting with the vendors in person was one of the most important parts of the trip for him.

“It was an invaluable and eye-opening experience to actually see, however briefly, the difficult conditions that street vendors face every day, such as the threat of eviction from their vending locations or confiscation of the goods on which their livelihood depends,” he said.

Ankita Upreti, a lawyer with the Self-Employed Women’s Association, said some of the meetings with stakeholders — including police authorities and officials of the Municipal Corporation, which is the local governing body — were successful, while others were not because the stakeholders did not want to discuss the issue.

She added that this was the first time the association has collaborated with a law school and said the union, which has been in place since last September, is “tremendous.”

“It is very important to understand the international perspective on any topic,” she said in an e-mail to the News Tuesday. “We hope to have a continuous collaboration with Yale Law School.”

Clinic member Megan Corrarino LAW ’13 said vending is important both as a source of income for sellers and as a low-cost option for consumers.

Since returning from their week-long stay in India, clinic members have continued to formulate additional recommendations regarding street vending. They are now also collaborating with Jindal Law School in India to draft more policy proposals.

According to the National Alliance of Street Vendors of India, Delhi alone has approximately 200,000 street sellers.

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