Near the Krantivira Sangolli Rayanna (KSR) Railway Station in Bengaluru, Shamala is seen running a small shop among a handful of other street vendors. She sells food items such as samosas, biscuits and puffed rice. Before the COVID-19 lockdown, the place would be bustling with activity. At present, only a handful of shops remain open. Her business has taken a massive hit and Shamala says she struggles to make ends meet
However, she has no other source to sustain her family and is forced to work despite this. â€śI am a single mother and I have two children. My son studies in Class 6 and my daughter studies in Class 4. Iâ€™ve left them at my sisterâ€™s place as I'm out all day running my shop. I barely make a profit of Rs 150 per day, but what other option do I have? I have to be able to feed my children and I have no other source of income or anyone else to help,â€ť Shamala says.
This year especially, has been extremely hard for business, Shamala says, as her sales and revenue went down significantly after the second wave of the pandemic hit. â€śIt has been difficult to pay for my childrenâ€™s school fees, so I had to pull them out of school. Maybe someday, when things get better, I'll try getting them back into the school,â€ť she says, adding that hasnâ€™t received any help so far from the government. â€śThe government put the lockdown in place for our safety, and I can understand that. But what about people like us? What about people who are worse than us? Our condition is such that without a lockdown, we die from COVID-19 and with a lockdown, we die due to starvation. The government should have looked at things from all angles before making a decision. If a lockdown was absolutely necessary, then they have to provide proper relief,â€ť she adds.
Several street vendors that TNM spoke to said that they were in a similar condition. Dinesh, a vendor in Malleshwaram, said that he had been struggling since the start of the pandemic. He sets up a temporary structure each day where he sells several things ranging from cutlery and household items to electronic items. Since the beginning of the pandemic, his business took a severe hit and he has had to take loans to survive, he says.
â€śAfter the first lockdown, my business took a major hit and my income became half of what it was. Since then, I've been struggling to survive. Luckily, I did have good friends who gave me loans and haven't asked me to pay it back considering the circumstances. But I will have to pay them back somehow. My business had gradually started picking up but by the time it did, the second lockdown was announced. Now I'm very worried as they are saying that there will be a third wave. If it does come and we don't get any relief, we are doomed,â€ť he adds.
Tippe Rudraiah, a street vendor who sold clothes in Vijayanagar told TNM that he and his family had left Bengaluru and had been living at his sisterâ€™s place in Ballari. â€śWe canâ€™t afford to live in Bengaluru paying rent and other expenses without any business. So we packed up and left for Ballari to my sisterâ€™s place. She is taking care of us now. I wonâ€™t be able to come back until I have business,â€ť he said.
Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa on June 7 released Rs 2,000 each to over 2 lakh registered street vendors across the state under the Deendayal Antyodaya (national urban livelihood) scheme. Vendors and their unions have said that while the move helps them, the amount is grossly inadequate. When asked if this amount helped vendors, Tippe Rudraiah said, â€śI have availed this scheme, I feel that it wasnâ€™t very helpful. To avail this, I had to go to a person who knew how to use a computer and he charges Rs 300. The website kept crashing. If the website crashes, my money wonâ€™t be refunded and I have to pay again to avail the money. Whatever remaining money I got, in what practical way is it supposed to compensate for the lost business?â€ť
Suresh Gowda, a street vendor, said that the amount released by the government did not do much to ease the situation. â€śI live in a small house with a tin sheet roof and yet, I have to pay a rent of Rs 5,000 per month. Without proper business for a year, I have been forced to take a loan from my friends, which totally amounts to Rs 1 lakh. I run a chaat shop and from when the pandemic began, customers fear eating outside. I hope things get better and I can pay off the loan,â€ť he said.
According to All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU), giving the relief package to only registered street vendors also excludes a majority of such vendors, as they are unregistered. In a letter to the Chief Minister, they said, â€śThere are 1.5 lakh street vendors in Bengaluru. Out of them, only 26,000 are registered. How is it right if only they (the registered vendors) get the amount?â€ť