The Market within a Market: The Complex Web of Goods and Services Supporting Street Vending

By Prajna Beleyur

Prajna_SI

Situated in the heart of the city, Mandai and Tulsibaug are two of Pune’s oldest markets. Mandai is divided into two vegetable and fruit market complexes: one is an older wooden octagonal market and the other, a newer tiled market. Tulsibaug is more organic in the way it has developed over the years. The Mandai complex has plots where vegetable and fruit vendors can conduct business, while Tulsibaug consists of three main roads with a wide variety of vendors who sell diverse goods and services. The municipal corporation has taken over a small part of Tulsibaug and has spatially segregated it but has not built any shops or stalls to facilitate vending. Mandai, on the other hand is regulated and maintained by a separate wing of the municipality.

Over the years, there have been many complex interactions between vendors and service providers of different kinds. The demand for these services and goods have evolved over time and created an interesting web of multiple economies, resulting in an interdependence among different actors.

The Plastic Bag Seller: While interviewing a ginger seller in the mandai complex, a lady with a big bag of plastics bags came over and asked if the seller needed any. At this point I realised that the vendors themselves depend on a whole parallel economy of helpers, sellers, and other actors to keep the market running. The plastic bag seller said said she has been selling plastic bags for over 15 years to vendors in the Mandai complex and outside, visiting the market twice a day. However, with the new Central government rules that bans plastic bags thinner than 50 microns, she’s at risk from being caught by the Municipal Corporation. If caught she will be fined close to Rs 1000 and the bags will be taken away from the vendors too. Fining the plastic bag seller will primarily affect her, but also affects the vendors who buy from her. Vendors have observed that customers don’t prefer to buy from those who do not have plastic bags to pack the bought produce. While the other option is to buy plastic bags thicker than 50 microns, the cost of such a polythene is also much higher. 

The Watchman: Another interesting discovery was of the private watchmen that a few vendors on the Shanipar Road hire to safeguard their goods in the night. This system has apparently been in place since annas were a significant currency. According to the vendor we spoke to, the watchman is paid a share of the vendor’s monthly income, therefore there is no fixed salary that has to be gathered. Each vendor contributes Rs.50-100 depending on their savings. If a vendor has not had good sales they may not even contribute to the salary.  It seemed to one that the service offered was on fluid terms, subjective to the vendors’ monthly sales.

The Chaiwallah: The chaiwala was another frequent presence in the markets. I observed that in the evening many chaiwalas brought with them a kettle full of chai (tea) and a dozen ceramic mugs. They served the tea in the mug and gave it to the vendor and collected it after they were done. There was no cash transaction at that point of time. When the vendors were asked about this, they said that they paid once every two/four days. The chaiwallah, they said, had a tapri (stall) in the adjacent road but chose to deliver the chai by sending someone with a kettle. The tapri owners have created this system of delivery knowing that the vendors cannot come to the stall while their goods are left unguarded. The target customers in the market are obviously the vendors themselves, as their numbers do not change drastically during the day or periods in the year. The delivery system also incentivises their consumption, as they do not have to put any extra effort to get the tea.

The Cleaners: The jewelery lane was one of the lanes in Tulsibaug that was explored. While interviewing one of the shop owners, he said that they are required to keep the road clean by the urban local government. The municipal corporation expects that all the shop owners pack up all their belongings at the end of the day and store it elsewhere. This leaves the road empty for the safai karmacharis to pick up waste from the area in the morning. However, the karmacharis only pick up the deposited waste, they do not clean the entire street. Upon asking further, he told us that the whole lane of vendors have employed two ladies to clean up the entire street after everyone has packed up. They pay her every month according to their individual income, which is usually about 100/person/month.

This system of paying another service provider a salary based on one’s income exhibits the interdependence that I hoped to illustrate through this piece. The market here does not stop between the vendor and the customer but goes forwards and backwards from that transaction. One’s savings has an effect on the fresh goods one can buy the next day and ancillary services one can avail. One would further expect that a service provider seeks a steady salary but for unexplored reasons this does not necessarily hold good in the above contexts. At the cost of sounding rather dramatic, it does seem that there is a market within a market!

The summer institute is a full-fledged 3 credits course in the academic calendar of the Masters in Urban Policy and Governance program of the School of Habitat Studies at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. It is conducted as a continuous module of approximately 2 weeks  duration, involving immersion in a community and location. This year’s institute studied the socio-political dynamics of street vending, especially in relation to the recent Street Vending Act (2014) that cited key constitutional provisions in support of street vendors and established guidelines for state governments so that the state can safeguard the vendors’ right to livelihood. In the following month, we will be posting some of the students’ research in the form of blogs, photo essays, narratives, life stories and analytical pieces that describe in great detail the everyday lives of vendors and local street markets. Watch this space for more.

To see institute reports from previous batches visit our website: http://urk.tiss.edu/winter-institute.html

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