Working Class Bearing

In a statement of issued on July 2, AICCTU has demanded the immediate withdrawal of FIRs filed against street vendors in Delhi and Goa under the newly implemented Indian Penal Code. The organization has also called for the repeal of the new criminal code, describing it as unconstitutional and undemocratic.

On July 1, 2024, the first case under the new penal code was filed against Delhi street vendor Mr. Pankaj Kumar for setting up his stall. Mr. Kumar relies on his vending activities for his livelihood, a fundamental right protected under the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014. Similarly, in North Goa, the police have filed a case against Mr. Nisar Ballari, a street vendor who sells coconuts.

Progressive and democratic organizations, including AICCTU, have repeatedly highlighted that the new penal codes are not only unconstitutional but also undermine democratic principles. The first case, registered at 12:15 PM on July 1, clearly illustrates the detrimental intent behind these codes, as it directly attacks the livelihood of a street vendor, Mr. Pankaj Kumar. This action is seen as a deliberate attack on the working class.

Legally, street vendors have the right to conduct their business on sidewalks and are not to be considered obstructions or encroachers. Courts have ruled against labeling street vendors as "illegal" and have recognized their vital role in the economy. Section 27 of the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014, was specifically included to prevent harassment by the police and to safeguard the livelihood of street vendors. It states:

“27. Notwithstanding anything contained in any other law for the time being in force, no street vendor who carries on street vending activities in accordance with the terms and conditions of the certificate of vending shall be prevented from exercising such rights by any person or police or any other authority exercising powers under any other law for the time being in force.”

The new criminal codes grant the police excessive arbitrary powers, effectively establishing a police state, as evidenced by the cases against Mr. Kumar and Mr. Ballari. These codes were enacted in an undemocratic manner and must be repealed to prevent further injustice.

The central BJP government has frequently targeted street vendors through various measures such as demonetization, GST, anti-farmer laws, anti-worker labor codes, and communal attacks against minorities, Dalits, Adivasis, and women. The new criminal codes are the latest in a series of measures that adversely affect the most marginalized sections of society.

Street vendors often lack the resources to challenge FIRs, and such arbitrary actions will have a detrimental impact on street vending. Under the previous Indian Penal Code, the penalty for such offenses was Rs. 200. The new penal code imposes a penalty of Rs. 5,000. Previously, vendors would often pay the Rs. 200 fine to avoid trouble. The new laws, however, impose a much higher financial burden, discouraging street vending altogether.

AICCTU demands the immediate withdrawal of FIRs against Mr. Pankaj Kumar and Mr. Nisar Ballari and calls for the repeal of the new criminal codes to protect the rights and livelihoods of street vendors.