Seeing the State as it Sees Itself: a timeline of policy attempts to regulate India's street vendors
Despite being one of the most visible forms of life in urban India, until the first national-level policy in 2004, street vending was largely unregulated. Between the first policy in 2004 and the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Vending) Act in 2014, the Indian state, I argue, was ‘open’, making it more susceptible to interventions from civil society. I trace the openness to the state’s inherent ‘reflexivity’, or the way it has been mandated by the Constitution to see itself in action, and (re)constitute its own self-perception. The state’s reflexivity has undergone a characteristic change under the ‘New Rights Agenda’, a political phase dating back to the 1980s, in which the state has responded to rights-based claims from the marginalised by promulgating multiple new laws guaranteeing new rights. The change comes in the form of Department Related Standing Committees, formed by the Indian Parliament to scrutinise each Bill referred to it alongside experts from civil society. Adopting a case-study approach, I analyse various interventions made by civil society actors and assess their effectiveness on the Street Vendors Act, to argue that civil society’s interventions are most effective when made at the policy-making phase and followed up at the implementation stage. Additionally, India’s civil society is found wanting in terms of its legal capacity.