Cash Woes: Street Vending and their Struggles with Demonitisation

By Shravisthha Ajaykumar

1280px-Merchant_selling_namkeen_snacks,_Khan_Market,_Delhi
Less than 50% of vendors have access to financial technology. Representational image: Source

 

The sudden news of demonetisation hit India with a fervour that was not entirely unexpected in intensity, but was in duration. It was those who already lacked in funds and did not have access to banking that suffered the brunt of the attack. Across the country, many had family members who were able to exchange old notes for new, or others who were quickly able to deposit the money. However, many were left stranded as they didn’t have access to banking or were not aware of how to proceed with such a facility, or had all their savings in cash and no family to distribute the exchange of such notes without raising suspicion, or facing fines. During the fieldwork at Aundh Market and Juna Bazaar in Pune, multiple vendors were interviewed and emotions ran high.

Everyone interviewed, irrespective of their capacity of business, had a similar response of despondency, bordering on disengagement from the issue. Everyone stated as if it were matter of fact, how it was obvious that they had suffered during the months of November till February. They claimed that everyone was suffering so it wasn’t just a one-man issue.  None of the respondents felt riled up, but they did feel indignant. When they were further probed about how they had dealt with such a travesty, many commented that they had to learn to live in even worse conditions than they already do. One of the vendors, in Juna Bazaar, who sold belts, said that on the night of the declaration, he had already left to return to his village and had returned to the market only in January, so though he didn’t face the worst of the change in market, he said, he did see the difference in the customer’s purchasing power even today.

Another vendor had faced a lot of problems during the month of November because she owned a large stall and couldn’t afford losses; which ensued in the form of lack of customer purchasing power, and even on some days a higher price for the products being bought in the wholesale market. Thus, she decided to adopt an online e-wallet for transactions. Though she didn’t have a business account, she along with her sons, were able to maintain this account with relative ease and though now her monetary situation was revived to its original condition, she and her sons continue to hold greater faith in financial technology, than in liquid cash.

Though the National Urban Livelihoods’ Mission, which aims to address the vulnerabilities of the urban street vendors, covers two important areas; Financial inclusion and; Access to credit, these two areas have not been described in anything more than arbitrary terms, where the mission states that “Under NULM, there will be periodic monitoring of release of funds. However, in order to promote better utilisation of funds under NULM, the idle funds at the central level, which could not be released to the States / UTs, not fulfilling the prescribed criteria, may be diverted to better performing States / UTs (or to centrally administered components) in the 4th quarter of a given financial year, keeping in view their performance and demand for additional funds.” When Mrs. Vaishali Patkar (President of Aundh Mauholla Committee) was enquired about such inclusion or access to credit, in the present Street Vendors (protection of livelihood and regulation) Act, or its presence in the future plan for hawkers in the smart city area business development plan, she was unable to give a clear answer and said there was a separate budget for the act that was being utilised in this concern.

Mr. Sanjay Shanke (founder of Dilasa Janvikas Sanstha and General Secretary of multiple Unions, and member of the TVC) was interviewed, and asked about his opinion on this area of concern for the street vendors, he claimed that neither the NDA nor the UPA government wanted a continued existence of street vendors, mostly because it contrasted the existence of cashlessness. When he was told of the few vendors who had access to new financial technology, his belief was that this was mostly lesser than 50% of the vendors under the Union and thus impractical for financial technology to replace cash. There was further no micro credit that the Union could formally provide, and said this was usually provided by union heads informally, or through the union fund. No specifications were made about the rate of interest if there was one at all.

It is obvious that supporting the vendors in times of economic crises, monetarily, is not possible, however, financial inclusion is a necessary start, and needs to begin at a more public level, where responsibility is not taken up only by private organisations like Paytm and Eko, or by banks like Janalakshmi. Regrettably, none of the vendors who were interviewed are financially aware or secure, they had never gained any formal education on how to be financially secure, and when it came to awareness, they believed informal sources (such as lenders) had no alternatives, and due to face to face interaction were the safest place to loan money from. Those interviewed did not save money, as for most of them money was a hand-to-mouth experience.  Moreover, approximately 15% of those interviewed (14 vendors) did not possess any banking documents, others possessed basic documents from LIC, required for licensing, issues with acquiring these documents were minimal, but the knowledge that they required these documents altogether for licensing had taken a while to reach the vendors, as it wasn’t enumerated very clearly to them. This lack of knowledge is dangerous as it can only push a sinking ship deeper. It is not simply for individual security, but also for national economy that financial education must be ensured and done so as a priority.

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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