It’s a hard life for street vendors
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It’s a hard life for street vendors

July 9, 2019

Mysuru: It has been nearly five years since 57-year-old Sannamma migrated from a remote village in H.D. Kote. She ekes out a living by selling green leaves and vegetables on Sayyaji Rao Road, a major shopping centre in the city. She has to sustain three children who live with her in a shack at Kalyanagiri. And she is not sure when she would be able to save enough to secure their future.

“I make about Rs.500-Rs.600 a day, which is not enough to sustain in this city. I have to somehow manage in order to save and at the same time sustain the daily needs of my family. My husband is no more and it has been five years without him,” she said. 

Sannamma is one of the many who have migrated to Mysuru in search of better prospects. But life as a street vendor is far from easy. They are regularly harassed by law enforcement agencies. Policemen are known to extort “hafta” — a weekly or a daily bribe — from these vendors to allow them to conduct business. Many times, the street vendors have to change locations at short notice because of harassment by the Police or local goons.

Living in constant fear

“We live in constant fear of what might happen. Some days we are roughed up and sometimes our stalls are pushed or damaged, or we are asked to move without any notice. The going is very tough for street vendors,” says Kumar who sells apples on a small cart near Makkaji Chowk. Every day he hopes that his apple cart is not ruined by law enforcers.

“If we don’t comply, we are roughed up or our wares are confiscated. It’s a daily fight for survival,” Manju told Star of Mysore. “Sometimes I feel like just giving it all up and getting back to farming at my native in K.R. Nagar,” he added. Manju migrated to Mysuru and sells T-shirts, caps, umbrellas and mufflers on Sayyaji Rao Road. 

Laws and rules

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Despite passage of the path-breaking Street Vendors (Livelihood Protection and Regulation of Street Vending) Bill that ordered local Municipal authorities to set up designated vending zones for hawkers to enable them to practice their trade peacefully, and despite Supreme Court declaring hawking a fundamental right, harassment has not stopped. 

As a result, a vast population of street vendors continues to live in insecurity as they attempt to earn an honest day’s living.

Many are migrants from rural heartland where declining agriculture — thanks to rain and anti-farmer policies of successive Governments — has left many small land holders and farm labourers in abject poverty.

Commercial streets such as Sayyaji Rao Road, Chamaraja Double Road, B.N. Road and Hanumantha Rao Street are dotted with footpath vendors. Also, many street vendors can be seen selling fruits, vegetables, clothes, greens etc., near K.R. Circle, City Bus Stand and Dufferin Clock Tower and outside Devaraja Market.

Their life is not all that easy as it appears to be as they have to face the vagaries of nature, the wrath of the Police and harassment from money lenders who take a large cut in their profits. They have to regularly pay ‘Hafta’ or ‘Mamool’ to the Police and local rowdy elements in order to do business smoothly.

Life stalled due to bribery

Vendors hand over a chunk of their income every month as bribe. Harish is one such vendor who sells fruits on the pavement near K.R. Circle. Every month, he pays bribes of Rs.1,500 to Rs.3,000 to Cops and Civic Officials, approximately one-third of his income. “Policemen work in various shifts, so I have to pay them all as they regularly walk by us wielding lathis,” he said with a frown on his face.

Added to the harassment by the Police is the regular haggling with money lenders. Street vendors borrow a sum for interest from the money lenders to buy products. Low cost of entry makes street hawking and vending an agreeable option for many who need to earn their living. But for this, they have to borrow money.

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“We do not have money to invest as the money earned daily goes to family maintenance. We borrow up to Rs.10,000 and pay almost Rs.2,000 as interest. If we ask for Rs.10,000 loan, the lender gives money after taking his interest cut,” said Javarappa, who sells LED bulbs near                  Devaraja Market. 

Daily battles

The plight of women street vendors is worse as they are compelled to take to the streets due to poverty. They sell fruits, vegetables, embroidered bags and trinkets to supplement the income of their family. Like Mary John who is married to an alcoholic. She struggles every day to feed her two daughters. On a good day she earns around Rs.300. 

Uncertain and insecure working conditions, lack of support, regular threat of eviction, harassment by local officials and crimes against women are battles they fight every day.

Some schemes of the Union Government to improve the lives of street vendors include Deendayal Antyodaya Yojana-National Urban Livelihoods Mission (DAY-NULM), Street Vendors Act, 2014, etc. Sadly most of the schemes are not implemented at ground level and they have remained on paper. 

As part of efforts to bring vendors under various Social Welfare Schemes, the Govt. has started issuing ID cards and certificates. 

The State Government launched ‘Badavara Bandhu’ scheme earlier this year which aims at lending money to the vendors at zero percent interest rate. This move of the State Government has eased the menace of money lenders but only to some extent. But a lot of them continue to face constant harassment.

ONE COMMENT ON THIS POST To “It’s a hard life for street vendors”

  1. Venkatesh says:

    Very nicely written!

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