The vendors are struggling without money to revive their business and to renovate shops damaged due to Cyclone Nivar.

Marina beach in Chennai houses several stalls
news Cyclone Friday, December 18, 2020 - 12:36

40-year-old Vijayalakshmi sprung up in life by setting up a spring potato shop in Edward Elliot's beach at Chennai’s Besant Nagar a few years ago. A woman with a fishing background, Vijayalakhsmi became an entrepreneur to uplift her family and educate her children, but the coronavirus lockdown brought her livelihood to a complete halt. After nine months of lockdown starting from March, the Tamil Nadu government finally gave its nod to reopen the beaches in Chennai. 

However, Vijayalakshmi is heartbroken because as soon as she saw her shop on Monday, she was shocked to find it in a dilapidated condition with failing electric appliances. “I survived the lockdown with much difficulty without getting into debt, but now I am forced to borrow money to build back the shop,” Vijayalakshmi said.

“The last nine months was definitely a struggle. I stopped my 18-year-old daughter from enrolling in college since I did not have money. I was waiting for the announcement of the government to reopen the beach so that I can earn money, but in vain. Now I do not have adequate money to renovate the shop,” she said.

Lockdown, cyclone and loss of workdays

The condition of hawkers and vendors in beaches across the city is no different. Hawkers have lost their shops due to the damage caused by nine months of lockdown and the recent Cyclone Nivar. Yet, vendors are trying to re-establish their business.

Raja, from Govindammal live food said, “We are readying a pushcart from scratch. I do not own a stall like others, so I will at least need Rs 50,000 to revive my business, and then I need to work consistently for the next 6 months to come back to normal.”

Raja has also been struggling to pay the fees of his children and has asked the school for some time to pay the fees. “My children were studying in a government school but only last year, I joined them in a private school near our home, but we are already struggling to pay the fees.”

Unlike others, Raja applied for a loan of Rs 10,000 provided by the government during the lockdown but he still urges Tamil Nadu government to increase the amount provided for the loan. “The government should increase the loan to Rs 50,000 since we are forced to spend Rs 10,000 only on the family. Without the shop, we couldn’t run the family so even with the meager loan amount, we are forced to only feed the family,” he said.

“We were surviving without any money for the past nine months so we have a huge debt mounted against us. The loan is helping us only to handle the family but not revive the business,” he added.

While a few vendors were able to revive business with little investment, they still say that running the food stalls after a cyclone is difficult due to the unavailability of fresh water. Sundari, who runs Sundari Akka Kadai, a famous food shop in Marina beach, said, “I am making food at home and giving it to my children for sales. They take it to the beach and are selling them. We have a live counter for fish fry but the rest are cooked at home. We are unable to start cooking on the beach since the water is not fit to even clean the fish. The water is dirty so we will function only after the water clears.”

Sundari Akka has been functioning from the stall for the past two days. However, she said, “Most of the vessels were damaged during the cyclone and we had to spend some money to repair them. I faced a lot of difficulty in the past nine months so I have no other option but to repair them. All of us faced a lot of problems due to the pandemic-induced lockdown.”

Demand of vendors

Like Vijayalakshmi and Raja, thousands of vendors and hawkers in Marina Beach and Besant Nagar beaches are struggling to renovate the shops and are urging the government to extend help. Vijayalakshmi said, “I come from a fishing community so I took up selling fishes during lockdown but I was not earning adequate money so with the money, I was only able to feed my family.”

Currently, she said, “I need at least Rs 50,000 to Rs 60,000 to renovate my shop. I need generators and banners, so the government should come forward to help because we need to stand up again.”

Hence, the hawkers and vendors of the beaches across the city demanded Tamil Nadu government to provide assistance for reviving the business. The vendors also urged the government to increase the amount of loan provided for the hawkers during the pandemic.

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