Kolkata: The 40-day country-wide lockdown may prevent the spread of coronavirus, but the measure would bring a "financial epidemic" on five crore families of hawkers and those who supply them with products, an official of the national hawkers' body said.
The lockdown was suddenly imposed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 24 to break the chain of coronavirus transmission and it was scheduled to be lifted on April 15. The 21-day measure was on Tuesday extended for 19 more days - till May 3.
"There are four crore hawkers across the country and at least one crore families run tiny and small industrial units that feed these vendors. They don’t know how to make both ends meet as their businesses have come to a complete halt," National Hawker Federation general secretary Shaktiman Ghosh told PTI on Thursday.
The economy revolving around street vending is estimated at Rs 8,000 crore a day.
"Financial epidemic is knocking at the door. Business capital is like a child to hawkers and they protect it at any cost. But they are now surviving on this capital, they live hand to mouth," he said.
"Unless they are supported, the situation could lead them to anti-social activities to feed their families or suicide," Ghosh said.
More people will die due to financial constraints than the coronavirus infection unless state governments and the Centre take some steps quickly to keep them afloat for the next few months, the National Hawker Federation official said.
A total of 1,188 unions and 11 central trade unions in 28 states are affiliated to the National Hawker Federation.
The Federation has demanded that the government recognise street vending as an essential service.
The Centre must ensure Rs 50,000 under MUDRA loan scheme to each hawker and Rs 5 lakh to the manufacturers, Ghosh said.
Pradhan Mantri MUDRA Yojana (PMMY) is a scheme launched in 2015 for providing loans up to Rs 10 lakh to non-corporate, non-farm small/micro enterprises.
"Even after the lockdown is lifted, I would not have any money left to restart the business. We are nothing more than daily wage earners. If the situation prevails, we will face starvation. Now, we are totally dependent on the state governments ration and aids given by hawkers' unions," a hawker in Kolkata said.
Ghosh claimed that the West Bengal government is yet to provide its 16 lakh hawker community with any direct financial support, whereas Odisha has offered Rs 3,000, while Rajasthan, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu have given to these people Rs 1,000 each.
Identifying hawkers would not pose a challenge if the government decides to offer financial support to them, he said.