Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

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A woman vegetable street vendor sorting out her meager wares for the day

Fate of Impoverished Street Vendors Made Uncertain in the Wake of Imphal Municipal Corporation’s Plan to Prohibit Vending Beyond 8am

Street vendors are an integral part of the urban economies across the world. They offer easy access to a wide range of affordable goods and service in public spaces. The street vendors sell everything from fresh vegetables to prepared foods, fish, garments, shoes, bags etc. Most of the street vendors provide the main source of income for their household, bringing food to their families and paying school fees for their children. They even create jobs, not only for themselves but for porters, transport operators, tea and snacks suppliers, and electric or lamp supplier during night time. Despite their contributions, street vendors face many challenges and often hurt by the policies and practices of the municipal authorities.

Recently media reports that Imphal Municipal Corporation (IMC) caretaker Mayor has said that street vendors selling various items in and around the Khwairamband Keithel will not be allowed beyond 8am as usual from April 19, 2022.  The Mayor said this to media at a press conference held on April 18, 2022 at the office of IMC. He said that street vendors are allowed to sell their products till 8am everyday. Action will be taken up against them if they do not follow it. IMC will remove such vendors with the help of City Police. The decision has been taken following strict instructions from the Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren and MAHUD Minister Yumnam Khemchand to not allow any street vendors in and around the Khwairamband Keithel. Steps are taken up to continue their activities at Lamphel Supermarket, Imphal West. The new market shed has more than 1300 plots for vendors and gradually more people will come to know about this new market and they can carry on their business, he added.

Uncertain future as they cannot vend after 8am

Earlier, the caretaker Mayor had announced that step has been taken up to ease traffic congestion in and around Khwairamband Keithel as a part of smart city plan. After the announcement to ban street vendors from 8am in and around Khwairamband Keithel, the street vendors strongly opposed IMC’s new plan. Even there were heated arguments between the officials and street vendors on the next day of the announcement opposing the IMC’s new plan. On interacting with some street vendors of Khwairamband Keithel, they narrated their own stories and views about the government’s new plan.

A street vendor aged of 45 years from Lilong expressed that she has been selling vegetables for the last eight years in and around Khwairamband Keithel. After the expiry of her husband, she looks after the entire family for food, schooling of her five children. Her first son was helping her doing some part-time jobs. Unfortunately after her son’s untimely demise due to electrocution while he was performing his duty she faces more struggle to run her family. She collects vegetables from her neighbours without paying any money and repays the money next day. She opted to be a street vendor over other activities as it can start her business without any capital. She could earn a profit of Rs. 600-700 a day which is hard to meet all the expenses of the essential commodities which keep on increasing day by day and for children’s schooling too. She expressed that rather than street vending she doesn’t have any option for her livelihood.

Another street vendor from Bamon Kampu narrated that she has been selling fruits and vegetables for the last eleven years in and around Khwairamband Keithel to support her family. She used to vend her products changing from one place to another every day. On a lucky day, she could earn a profit of Rs. 400 only. Particularly during rainy days, she faced many problems in selling vegetables and even lost both capital and profit as all their products got spoiled. Reacting on the IMC’s new plan, she expressed that new market place at Lamphel is not the right place for vending things. The government’s new plan will add more pains to them.

A woman who has been vending achars (pickles) for the last ten years asserted that she came out as a street vendor after the death of her husband was on dialysis for a long time. After earning some money as a street vendor she could pay off her debts which she borrowed from her neighbours and relatives for her husband’s treatment. She prepared achars of seasonal fruits with the help of her four daughters at home. She could not sell her products before 8am everyday as she came to the market after preparing it in the morning. Usually she comes to the market at 11am and went back home at around 5-6pm. She could earn a maximum profit of Rs. 500 a day. She also said that her business could be carried out with some few hundred unlike other business. She cannot sell her products peacefully as she is always in a tense mood that police might come and throw her out at any time. She appealed the concerned authorities to take up an appropriate action for the welfare of the street vendors. She also requested people to value their products by not bargaining for small amounts which people never showed at big show rooms. The narratives of the street vendors revealed that their needs make them compelled to be a street vendor to generate income for their poor families.

Some pedestrians also expressed mixed reactions on street vendors and government’s new plan for street vendors. A pedestrian expressed that she felt so sad the way how some police evicted them and destroy their products. Though the street vendors create the road congestion but they provide an opportunity for the public to buy vegetables and fruits easily at a cheaper price.

A woman expressed that she knew some street vendors personally who are widows. They came out to the market to vend their products to support their poverty-stricken families.  The inhuman act of some police personnel towards the street vendors which she witnessed felt her so disappointed. Another pedestrian narrated that she doesn’t appreciate the new plan as for her it is easy to get all the items from the street vendors like vegetables, fruits and other items easily rather than going to Lamphel.

Some organisations are demanding the government to take appropriate action and to address the issues faced by the street vendors. On the other hand the license holding vendors of the three Nupi Keithels do not appreciate street vendors as they make their business declined since maximum numbers of street vendors are increasing day by day which allowed people to purchase the products from the street vendors easily and making the markets filthy after selling their products which make the city looks ugly.

As welfare scheme for the street vendors, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs launched PM Street Vendors’ AtmaNirbhar Nidhi (PM SVANidhi) on June 01, 2020 for providing affordable working capital loan to street vendors to resume their livelihoods that have been adversely affected due to COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. The duration of the scheme was March 2022. It targets to benefit over 50 lakh street vendors. Here, lies the need to pay attention to the narratives of the street vendors to carry on with their business profitably, thus supporting their livelihoods. It is the need of the hour that the state government conducts a study and tries to find out ways to protect them and rehabilitate the street vendors to lead a happy vending life.

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