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Street vendors 'devoid' of rights in a country run by one who claims to be chaiwala

By Shreshth Virmani*

Sudhirbhai (name changed) is a tea vendor in Ahmedabad and since the time first curfew was imposed he has been struggling to survive. Now when the country has opened up, his earnings are nowhere near the pre-lockdown levels. Earlier he used to make about Rs 500 on daily basis but now it is less than Rs 200. People like Sudhirbhai are still struggling to meet their ends.
The situation is same with majority of the hawkers and vendors all over the country. Kavita (name changed), who is a hawker in a small town in Haryana, says, “Before the lockdown, I used to make sales of Rs 1500 per day and was able to save Rs 500 as profits on daily basis. However, now the sales are less than Rs 700 and savings have reduced substantially. Now, there are no NGOs helping with the food requirements as was the case during lockdown, and extortion by municipal authorities has increased”. 
Street vendors are the backbone of Indian economy and are considered as an integral part of urban retail trade and distribution system for daily necessities. According to the government estimates, street vending accounts for approximately 14 per cent of total urban informal employment in the country. Though, the stringent lockdown restrictions have been lifted, the business for street vendors has still not picked up. With reduced crowd on the Indian streets, they are facing decreased incomes. The life for them was much better before the lockdowns.
Recently, the government came up with PM SVANidhi, or Pradhan Mantri Street Vendors Atma Nirbhar Nidhi scheme, to provide loans to street vendors for upto Rs. 10,000. However, the bank officials have taken opportunistic advantage of illiterate street vendors. 
According to a government estimate, street vending accounts for approximately 14% of total urban informal employment in the country
The president of the Vendors’ Welfare Association at Lanka in Varanasi, Chintamani Seth, says that of all the applications for loans, only less than 30% have received the loans after much struggle and that too at high interest rates from the nationalized banks in Varanasi. 
There is no authority to listen to poor vendors. Further, many of the street vendors have not been allowed to operate at the same places post lockdowns, even if vendors complied with all government regulations on Covid-19 prevention.
It is quite ironical that in a country where the prime minister identifies himself as a chaiwala, street vendors have to undergo difficulties in running their businesses. Their rights are not respected and are most often termed as illegal businesses. Nevertheless, the local authorities and policemen often extort money from the poor fellows to allow them to operate their business. 
The atrocities of local authorities against the street vendors is not new, every now and then street vendors have been exploited. The Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014 was formed with the objective of legalize street vending and protecting the rights of urban street vendors. However, till date the vendors in most pockets of India have not been granted licences to operate in the designated vending zones.
Chintamani says, in Varanasi, local body has colluded with trade unions and local businesses to eliminate street vendors from crowed marketplaces and develop vending zones at remote places in the city with limited footfall. If vendors protest, then they are harassed and beaten up. This is shameful when such activities happen under the nose of prime minister and he describes himself as a chaiwala and lauds of crucial role of street vendors in Uttar Pradesh economy.
We need concrete steps to be taken by government to direct municipal authorities about the creation of vending zones at existing places where street vendors usually operate. Further, they shall be given certificate of vending to prevent local authorities to illegally extort money from them. The prime minister and state chief ministers shall take cognizance of the difficulties that street vendors face and take decisive action against the corrupt officials in the lower levels of government machinery.
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*Student of Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad, dreams for a better India based on equal opportunities for and equality of all communities. Views expressed are personal

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