“A VEGETABLE VENDOR SITTING ALONG THE ROADSIDE TELLS A WHITE LIE ABOUT PRICE OF VEGETABLES FOR THE SAKE OF HIS FAMILY”.
It’s a truth that every single person works to earn money for their family but this pandemic has affected everyone in this world badly. It is a well-known fact now that the crisis of the Corona pandemic and the consequent national lockdown has shown its worst face to the class of informal and migrant workers.
The Lockdown in our country came harshly on street vendors’ massive informal economy on 24th march with just 4 hours of notice, which meant that the roadside vendors immediately lost their source of income and were confronted with hunger and deprivation. Street vendors provide essential services in cities, residents rely on them for basic needs. But the pandemic has devastated the livelihoods of street vendors, disrupting their ability to do their jobs and leaving many in a fight for survival.
Millions of poor Indians who migrate from villages to cities in search of livelihood are the ones who are the most affected because of this pandemic. The problem of migrant workers may not be entirely unique to India, but the sheer scale, there are more than 40 million migrant laborers across the country, makes it difficult to provide relief to everyone. Most move from villages to work in cities as domestic helpers, drivers, and gardeners, or as daily-wagers on construction sites, building malls, flyovers, and homes, or as street vendors.
The street vending economy approximately has a parallel turnover of Rs 80 crore a day and every street entrepreneur/trader supports an average of three others as employees or partners or workers on commission. All of them earn a livelihood, bare but sufficient. National Hawkers Federation estimates say that 50% of the street vendors sell food. At least 35% of the fruits and vegetables sold in urban areas and in far-flung, remote rural corners are also sold by vendors. The remaining 20% of vendors sell clothes, plastic goods, unbranded crockery, cutlery, and household goods. The economic impact of the lockdown has been extreme on the supply chain and the informal sector production lines that have shut down as the hawkers have gone off the streets.
As self-employed entrepreneurs, street vendors are part of a “low circuit” economy and the lockdown has brought a complete break in this circuit. The impact of lockdown has been severe on street vendors since the nature of work requires excessive mobility and access to customers, goods, and markets. As one of the key informants highlighted that street vending is done in crowded places to get more access to customers hence more profit. In the present scenario when the whole world is forced to stay at home, these vendors are among the groups that are worst affected, without the luxury of work-from-home, the livelihood of the majority is critically hit.Now as lockdown is over how are these vendors coping up with the present situation? And how can we get them back on track and make our systems resilient to deal with such crises in the future? Food, shelter, and health are concerns needing immediate attention. There is a need to consider the universality of reform.
Further, there needs to be specific data for issues related to migrants, women, and vulnerable populations so as to have proper inclusion in policy and schemes. Normalcy will have to be brought soon and to come into recovery mode, economic social packages and subsidies have to be announced, with a focus on the identification of key sectors. There is a need to generate work, wage security, support MSMEs, stop any retrenchment of workers. Own account workers should be given better regulatory tools so that they can recover themselves. It is fundamental to push for the proper implementation of the Street Vendors Act(2014) and the need for licensing so that their livelihood is secured. The exposure of street vendors to health vulnerabilities are high given that their workplace (market areas) is an open space and often unhygienic. Street vendors should be given health insurance to preserve their rights of dignified livelihood.The ripple effect of the pandemic on street vendors is not acknowledged by the government at the Centre and taking a cue,from that,by the state governments.Housing and Urban development minister Hardeep Puri estimates that there are 18 lakh vendors of whom 14 lakh are registered(how much is it true). The consequences of the pandemic on a sector vendor need a policy response, the Union government has to end its ostrich act and stop describing the crisis as a ‘social’ one and get down to the business of strategizing what it wants to do with lakhs of people whom will go out of business with physical distancing, such as street vendors.