For the many street vendors and hawkers in the city, confusion prevails whether they can legally resume their activities and even if they do, there are no guidelines to follow.

A street vendor near the Secunderabad railway stationFile photo
Coronavirus Business Tuesday, May 26, 2020 - 17:57

"Nothing is the way it used to be. It looks like things have changed permanently," says Raju, his face covered with a cloth as he looks around for a potential customer at Kukatpally Housing Board (KPHB) in Hyderabad.

"There are hardly any people out on the street and everyone is stepping out only on work. The idea of walking along the street for leisure and purchasing something has gone. Even though we have been given relaxations, it's almost like they are of no use," he says, visibly dejected.

For the last two months, Raju*, a street vendor who sells clothes, has remained at home due to the COVID-19 lockdown. While he had a white ration card and received the benefits that the Telangana government provided, he had no income and almost depleted his savings to survive.

Shops were allowed to reopen in Hyderabad on May 19 after the Municipal Administration and Urban Development Department (MAUD) issued guidelines, which stated that shops next to each other could open on alternate days as per a numbering system that was drafted. 

But for the many street vendors and hawkers in the city, confusion prevails whether they can legally resume their activities and even if they do, there are no guidelines to follow.

"Street vendors were already some of the worst-hit by the COVID-19 crisis as they had no livelihood and no other means to support their families. Authorities are not implementing the same scheme as shops for us and neither are they allotting us numbers," Venkat Mohan, President of the Telangana Street Vendors and Hawkers Union tells TNM.

"They're saying that there is no policy for us, so there is nothing to implement, even though we gave them so many representations," he adds.

Venkat also says that there is confusion on the ground as street vendors are desperate to resume business but wary that they may face action by the police or civic authorities if they do so without explicit permission.

"Our only demand is that they give us numbers so that we can follow orders. In some cases like in KPHB, we were asked to number ourselves and organise, but this will cause problems when we deal with police and municipal authorities. We want instructions from them," he says.

In areas like Secunderabad railway station, where vendors and hawkers were totally dependent on travelling passengers, the future looks bleak.

"Our entire business is from passengers from trains and buses. Since there is no public, none of us can open for now. Many of us run juice stalls and sell other eateries. Though we will take precautions, people will be skeptical to eat anything outside, given the pandemic, so we don't know what to do," a street vendor who used to run a juice stall near the station says.

James John, the Greater Hyderabad General Secretary of the National Association of Street Vendors of India (NASVI) points out that it will be difficult for such people to get back to doing brisk business, like earlier.

"Even during the lockdown, it was not street vendors who were selling the vegetables and fruits. It was the traders and auto drivers themselves who turned to retail to make a quick profit. The regular vendors were forced to sit at home," he said.

"We have got instructions from the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) to identify street vendors who are going to open up their stalls soon. That process is ongoing. Appropriate steps will be taken soon," John, who is also a member of the Town Vending Committee (TVC), said.

The Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014 mandates that a TVC has to be in place with representatives from various government departments besides members of the associations and unions.

The Centre had earlier announced that a scheme would be brought out, to provide working capital loans of up to Rs 10,000 to street vendors, to restart their business.

"For vendors to be beneficiaries of this scheme, we need ID cards. There are over 1.5 lakh street vendors and hawkers in Hyderabad as per our estimates but only 25,450 people have got the ID cards issued to them as per data, available with the Telangana Mission for Elimination of Poverty in Municipal Areas (TSMEPMA)," Venkat Mohan says.

"This, though many have applied long ago and have been waiting for several months. Our demand is that those who have applied for the ID card until December 2019, should be able to avail the scheme. Why should we suffer due to negligence of some officials?" he asks.

When contacted, an official in the GHMC said that they were awaiting instructions from higher officials for some clarity on the issue. 

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