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Even as economic activities resume in the national capital of New Delhi, with the opening of markets in a staggered manner as part of the exercise, hard times await hawkers engaged in street-side offerings.
Trade unions and hawkers’ representatives fear that after much of the meagre savings of street vendors dried up during the two-month lockdown period, many vendors have been pushed into debt at high interest rates.
Durga Devi, a 35-year-old street vendor in Kapashera, one of Delhi’s labour colony, believes so. “The last two months saw all of our savings dry up. They were also only enough to afford my family one meal a day. Now, it will be like starting from scratch – only that it is much difficult now to arrange for money for it,” she said.
Likewise, 27-year-old Haider, a cloth hawker in Delhi’s Seelampur, has been finding it difficult to make both ends meet. “With no business in the last two months, I had to borrow money from a local moneylender. I had promised to return the money once things got back to normal,” he said. Haider is still to set up his cart on the roadside, with no clarity from the government.
In an attempt to soften the blow landed by the lockdown due to COVID-19 on street vendors across the country, the Centre had announced a special credit facility of Rs. 5,000 crore in May for street vendors, as part of the Atma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan. Under the scheme, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had announced credit for up to Rs. 10,000 to a street vendor as initial working capital.
The credit facility, however, invited flak from the hawkers’ association and trade union bodies, who had been seeking benefits like direct cash transfers for street vendors.
“Loans prove less beneficial for vendors who are in need of cash to help them survive in these difficult times,” Dharmendra Kumar of the Hawkers Joint Action Committee, New Delhi, told NewsClick. He said that the organisation had been demanding for the same since the initial days of the lockdown, but to no avail.
According to Kumar, the delay in providing for a loan is testing the patience of the street vendors at the moment. “Nothing much has been done to provide even loan relief to street vendors, except for the announcement that was made in May,” he added.
Street vendors have already paid a huge price due to the negligence and oversight of both, the Central and the State government, they cannot afford to wait any longer, he added.
Similarly, Shakeel Ahmed, the general secretary of Delhi’s Rehri-Patri Hawkers’ Union, also condemned the government for doing next to nothing for the street vendors. “There are between five lakh to six lakh hawkers in Delhi alone. The majority of them are migrants. If the government does not provide them relief, they will be forced to leave the city,” he said.
Ahmed demanded the Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP government to provide cash transfers to street vendors in the same way as cash transfers have been announced for e-rickshaw drivers and construction workers.