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Gujarat street vendors 'worst affected': Plea for cash relief, protection from cop harassment

Counterview Desk
In a representation to Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani, My City Our City (MCOC), a civil society network of activists, academics and urban planners have said that nearly 1.91 lakh street vendors of the state need “immediate relief and consideration” from the government, especially because they are one of the most adversely affected sections due to Covid-19 pandemic.
Insisting that as all street vendors are daily wage earners and the pandemic is acutely affecting their livelihood and access to resources, the representation, whose copy has been sent to deputy chief minister Nitin Patel, chief secretary Anil Mukim and Gujarat Urban Livelihood Mission director HC Modi, says that they should be provided with Rs 5,000 per month as minimum wage grant for three months, subsidised loan to restart livelihood, and protection from police harassment.

Text:

My City Our City (MCOC) is a group of civil society organizations, academicians, researchers and urban practitioners actively working with informal sector workers in various cities of Gujarat. Considering the plight of street vendors, who are one of the most vulnerable communities in this situation, are approximately 2 per cent of the total population in our cities.
As per the Gujarat Urban Livelihood Mission (GULM) website, around 1,90,963 vendors have been surveyed so far. This community needs immediate relief and consideration from the State government. In the past two months, this sector has been adversely affected due to Covid-19. All street vendors are daily wage earners and the coronavirus pandemic is acutely affecting their livelihood and access to resources.
The closure of wholesale markets has created a huge problem for street vendors. Cities have shut off their public transport networks leaving street vendors stranded, are not able to travel to their place of work. 
Vendors not being allowed to set up their shops/carts, in spite of adhering to social distancing measures. What this situation adds up to is circumstances that make it absolutely impossible for any street vendor in any city in India to pursue their livelihood in this ongoing fight against Covid-19.
Moreover, while closure of weekly markets and crowded market/vending areas as well as of street food stalls are necessary and brave steps during these extraordinary times, fruit and vegetable sellers, who provide last mile availability of essential groceries to millions of isolated residents, should be given as much protection as possible.
In this context, we sincerely appeal to you to agree to our demands regarding the street vendors: 
  • States should start online temporary registration of street vendors
Registration of informal sector workers like street vendors is of paramount importance in times of relief measures. Formalisation of vendors should be made much easier and a temporary way to get registered should be announced so that all vendors have a chance to avail the relief package.
  • All weekly market vendors should be provided minimum three months’ wages (Rs 5000 per month) from April 2020 to June 2020 
Thousands of vendors who sell goods in markets -- that have been recognised by local urban local bodies (ULBs) fined by ULBs; are voting members of local Town Vending Committees; have legal documents proving that they are vendors; have training certificates from the Food and Safety Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) -- should be provided minimum three months wages from the government. This minimum wage grant is to be seen as compensation for lost wages due to the lockdown, so that they can restart their businesses again.
  • Protective gear for street vendors and their safety
Protective gear should be provided for all operational and essential street vendors including masks, disposable gloves, sanitiser or soaps for their hygiene and medical safety. 
  • Need for cash grants not loans
We request that the initial working capital loan of Rs 10,000 announced by the Central government to be converted into a cash grant, because a commercial loan would do more harm than good to the entire informal economy. This is necessary as the street vendors have already undergone through an extraordinarily difficult ordeal, and their business will not resume as soon as the lockdown is over.
  • Loan of Rs 20,000-50,000 for each vendor with 25% of the amount to be subsidised
 The loan amount also should be revised to INR 50,000 for each vendor with 25% of that amount subsidised. The interest rates of the loan should not exceed 4-7%, as in MUDRA scheme.
  • Guidelines for street vending 
Public guidelines, detailed rules and guidelines to be maintained in marketplaces and how to deal with street vendors and related purchases during the Covid-19, should be drafted, printed and circulated widely so that every street vendor can display these on their stalls/carts. 
These public guidelines can relate to health and sanitary guidelines issued to the general public while interacting in a market area, such as cleaning of hands and surroundings, essential sanitising of markets before and after operations, strictly maintaining two metres distance between customers and vendors, immediate responses in the event of disasters or lockdowns, general rules of engagement with street vendors in the context of a virus pandemic, etc.
  • Halt police harassment and eviction of vendors during lockdowns
It should be clearly communicated to the local police authorities who are maintaining the lockdown situation in most major cities in India that street vendors selling vegetables and fruits should not be evicted, harassed or targeted in any way, except if they are participating in a large, dense market or are breaking the rules of social distancing.
  • Vendors should be provided with odd and even passes to safely operate and avoid crowding
ULBs have the relevant data from the street vendors surveys conducted in the past. Even if these have not resulted in registration of the surveyed vendors, these lists should be used to grant temporary passes to vendors who can then be further classified into odd and even numbers based on their IDs. As shops in markets are being opened on an odd even basis, the same procedure can be applied to street vendors all across the country.
  • Facilitate street vendors delivering essential food items to homes
It is in the economic interest of the street vendors and medical and hygienic interests of the public, if the government can facilitate local food delivery systems for these essential vendors. This can be in the form of providing an official database for each vendor where they can fill in their details, phone numbers, location, products. 
This database can then be shared digitally or via public messaging at the local level to as many households as possible. The street vendors can then be provided or assisted in procuring eco-friendly delivery equipment such as cycles or rickshaws to help delivering food to their buyers. 
Such networks will not only provide crucial help during pandemics and other disasters, but will provide a boost to the informal economy and entrepreneurship within it. 
***
We immediately request you to announce a relief package for street vendors and adopt correct and safe procedures for affected street vendors to avail the same or give specific orders to states or local authorities for the same. 
 MCOC would be extremely happy to assist you in the implementation of these measures as we have well nurtured networks of civil society organisations in several cities of Gujarat.
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For signatories click here

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