With bowls in their hands to signify destitution, thousands of street vendors took out a march on Saturday to the residences of the Lieutenant Governor and the Chief Minster of Delhi, demanding permission to resume their vending business. These are mostly vendors who depend on the weekly markets held in the national capital, but have been hit by restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In case, they are not allowed to resume vending on the streets amid the pandemic, the government must compensate the losses at the monthly rate of Rs 18,000, the protesters said.
Last year, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, weekly markets in the national capital were ordered to close down in the month of March. They were allowed to fully function later in October 2020, only to be closed again as the infection rates surged in April this year.
Protesting under the banner of the Hawkers Joint Action Committee (HJAC), street vendors on Saturday argued that they were pushed to penury due to closure of weekly markets on which their livelihood used to be depended. Moreover, even with the opening of the “crowded markets” now, there is no clarity over the full-fledged operations of the weekly market, according to them.
Their march to the LG’s residence met with a police barricade, leading the protesting vendors to sit on the road itself for a while. The committee’s delegation team later handed over a memorandum to the LG’s office.
“In case, it is not advisable [to allow street vending] keeping in mind the Covid pandemic [then] all street vendors of Delhi must be compensated for their loss of livelihood at the rate of [Rs] 18,000 per month,” the memorandum said.
Dharmendra Kumar, all India president of HJAC, argued that street vending was the last resort for the poor, disabled, widows, and others in the last rung of the socio-economic ladder. “In such a situation, there is a need to see street vending as an important weapon in poverty alleviation,” he said.
He added that urban workers and low-income families in the city were also able to survive only because of the services provided by the street vendors.
Ashwani Bagri, convenor, Delhi Weekly Bazaar United Front, while addressing the gathering on Saturday said that the busy markets in the city and liquor shops have been opened while the precarious conditions of street vendors were being neglected. According to him, it was the “constitutional right” of the vendors to earn a livelihood and if the weekly markets were not opened, then the vendors must receive a monthly compensation at the rate of minimum wages applicable in Delhi.
The lockdown-induced distress is being faced by street vendors across the country. Last year, the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) had launched a scheme for street vendors namely, PM SVANIDHI, which provided for a working capital loan of up to Rs 10,000 to eligible vendors with no collateral.
Hakim Singh Rawat, working president of HJAC, claimed at the protest that the street vendors were hesitant to take a loan under PM SVANIDHI despite all efforts. “If street vendors are not allowed to earn livelihood, then how will they be able to repay the monthly instalment of the loan?” he asked.
It is because of these reasons that experts have been raising a demand for the government to disburse the amount under the central scheme not as a loan, but an one-time cash assistance to street vendors to tide over the pandemic-induced crisis.