No income and stuck with dated tickets, Kerala lottery agents suffer amid lockdown

About 90 lakh lottery tickets, worth Rs 36 crore, were sold every day in Kerala, and after the tax cuts, the sellers and agents got 25% of it.
Babu and Maheshwari
Babu and Maheshwari
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Every morning, Babu and Maheshwari would take a bus from their home in Attingal to the Thampanoor station in Thiruvananthapuram. There’d be a crowd there and Babu would begin his practiced speech. He is a blind man, he’d say. Wouldn’t they want to help him by buying the lottery tickets he sold, Babu would ask. When someone would stop to buy a ticket, the selling would be done by Maheshwari, the partner who could see.

“We stopped going from March 22, that first day of the lockdown,” Babu says now, nearly two months after the Janata Curfew called by the Prime Minister and the nationwide lockdown that followed.

Babu and Maheshwari ran their family of five with the money that came from selling the lottery tickets. Their eldest was in college and the younger ones – a pair of twins – in class 11. “He has been blind since he was three-and-a-half years old and had an illness,” says Maheshwari.

“He finished his degree in Malayalam and also had training to work as a lift operator. But he could not get any job for a long time and that’s how we became lottery sellers,” she says.

They have been living on borrowed money from friends and neighbours all these days of the lockdown. “The pension for people with disability and the thousand rupees given by the government had long run out. If the situation continues, we’d be in a major crisis, and we need to return the debts too,” Babu says.

Loss of crores of rupees: Welfare Board

Both Babu and Maheshwari are members of the Kerala State Lottery Agents and Sellers Welfare Fund Board. That qualified them to get thousand rupees each from the government. “We are now requesting for another installment for the welfare board members,” says Sanjayan, state nodal officer of the board.

There are nearly 70,000 members on the board, which began functioning in the state in 2009. “There’d be about one-and-a-half lakh lottery sellers and agents in all in the state. About 90 lakh lottery tickets, worth Rs 36 crore, were sold every day in Kerala. After the tax cuts and everything, the sellers and agents got about 25% of it as their income,” Sanjayan says.

It’s that income that’s suddenly stopped coming to the tens of thousands across the state, who depended on lottery sales for their livelihood. “Many who choose this occupation would be people with disability or those who’d lost other jobs and had no other option to make an income. There are also a good percentage of women,” Sanjayan says.

The welfare board is planning to give coupons worth Rs 3,500 for the agents and through them to the sellers. “Last year for Onam, we had given a festival allowance of Rs 6,000. But what is the point of waiting till Onam when they need money now to be able to revive the business, once it could start functioning again. The Sannadha Sena (volunteer army) would deliver the coupons home with two masks and a sanitiser each.”

So far, there’s been no announcement about allowing lottery sales again. On Tuesday, a trade union meeting is being planned to discuss the same, Sanjayan says.

Dated tickets won’t sell: Agents

Even if the business is re-launched, there is another problem. Lottery agents have the practice of buying lottery tickets in bulk for a few days before selling it to the lottery sellers. Most of these tickets are now dated, and even though the lottery draws have been postponed, people would not be aware of that.

“I had bought 12,000 tickets worth Rs 3 lakh just before the lockdown. It’s all dated March 2020. People don’t buy dated tickets. Even otherwise, people don’t go out with the intention of buying lottery tickets. It is only when they happen to see a seller on the way that they think of buying one. Most of the sales happen on the previous day of the draw – people tend to buy tickets which will be part of the next day’s draw. No one would glance at a dated ticket or have the time to listen to your explanation that the draws have been postponed,” says Rameshan, a lottery agent in Thiruvananthapuram.

He says that on previous occasions, sellers have had a bad experience when they tried to sell dated tickets which were still valid. “This was at the time of floods. Some were even beaten up. So sellers would not buy dated tickets from us,” Rameshan says.

The agents have approached the Finance Department to exchange the tickets for new ones with new dates. “These are just papers with a bar code on them that should be scanned to verify if someone has won the prize. The bar codes have faded now and the tickets have no value without them. The Finance Minister, however, says that there are legal issues in exchanging the old tickets for new ones. He says that instead, the government would campaign and give ads about the draw dates being postponed,” Rameshan adds.

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