R Ganesan, a 54-year-old street vendor, broke into tears when asked about the loss of livelihood during the COVID-19 lockdown. He runs a tiffin centre on a hand cart in Trichy city to feed his family of four. Over 5,000 vendors who don’t own or run shops in rented buildings are not being permitted to sell essential items including fruits and vegetables. They are forced to run from the collector’s office to the corporation office seeking permission to run their shops but in vain. The apathy of the officials are adding to the anguish of these street vendors.
LARGE NUMBER OF VENDORS UNRECOGNISED
The Trichi Corporation has banned street vendors from carrying out their business owing to the 21 days lockdown. Despite the government’s assurance of financial assistance, the lack of transparency in listing out the street vendors may deprive them of the minimal relief measures announced by the state government.
“There are more than 12,000 street vendors in Trichy, while the local bodies have issued identity cards for only 5,000 people. The remaining 7,000 people will not get the additional Rs 1,000 relief announced by the state government. I have four people in my family and taking into consideration the 7,000 people without identity cards, there are more around 30,000 people waiting for some relief from the government. How will they survive this lockdown period?,” asked Ganesan.
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The need for effective data collection and recognition of street vendors remains a long pending demand of the street vendors and the unions in the state. They face continuous intimidation from police and from the local body administration, in few places, owing to the pressure from big establishments. Those with identity cards manage to survive, but others continue to face humiliation.
WEEKLY MARKETS CLOSED IN MADURAI
Around 2,700 street vendors in Madurai Corporation are facing a similar situation in the city known for its weekly and daily markets catering to the needs of the people. The lockdown has forced these vendors to stay back in their homes without any income for survival. These vendors sell goods including plastic products, readymade dresses, footwear, toys and many more.
“The weekly markets are completely closed down. In Madurai, there are 15 places where weekly markets are held. The street vendors sell their products on a rotation basis in these places. Those vendors including perishable goods sellers are affected badly. All the small vendors are affected badly irrespective of the goods they sell. The families depend on the income earned daily and they are left to starve as the markets are closed,” said Santhyagu, general secretary of Madurai District Street Vendors’ Association.
WHO WILL DISTRIBUTE THE RELIEF?
The state government has announced an additional relief of Rs 1,000 for all registered street vendors in addition to Rs 1,000 for public distribution system (PDS) card holders. However, apprehensions are there regarding the timely disbursal as well as the authorities vested with the distribution of the relief. The street vendors, unlike the registered workers in welfare boards won’t receive 15 kg rice, one kg dal, sugar and cooking oil.
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G Karuppaiyan, convener of the Tamil Nadu Street Vendors’ Association while speaking to NewsClick said, “The amount to PDS card holders will be distributed through the shops from April 2 as announced by the government. But, no announcement has been made on the distribution of relief to the street vendors. Whether the labour welfare department or the PDS shops or the local bodies will distribute the amount remains unknown. The relief must reach the poor well in advance to prevent them from starving.”
ENSURE SAFETY TO EVERYONE
The authorities, instead of ensuring social distancing in common places, are resorting to forceful close down of the markets adding to the pain of the vendors. The vendors, who depend on borrowing money from local lenders, lose their sale due to such sudden shut downs. “The public and the government are equally responsible in ensuring the prevention of the spread of the pandemic. The necessary measures of social distancing should be ensured by all concerned citizens and the administration in particular. Closing down markets suddenly will just lead to loss of the vendors and push them towards more debt,” added Santhyahu.
The announcement of lockdown, without any breathing space, has put a vast majority of the population at loss of livelihood. With limited relief measures announced by the state government and the uncertainty remaining days after the relief measures are announced have created panic among the public.