While the three Khwairamband Nupi Keithels (women’s markets) and other satellite markets of Manipur remain paralysed due to the COVID-19 lockdown since March 21, some of the other business establishments in the heart of Imphal city are allowed to conduct their business even though it is not as usual.
We all know what we need during lockdown for survival is basic foods and medicines. The government should ensure its citizens get their basic foods and medicines to fight the pandemic successfully. Only distribution of three to five kilograms of rice for a month for a limited period of time can’t make a man survive for months.
Enough has been said and discussed about the lives of the daily wage earners including street vendors and regular women’s market vendors, and those working in the private sector including private school teachers and transporters who are not getting salaries due to the lockdown. It is known they are among the worst hit in this COVID-19 lockdown.
However, no satisfactory policy or programme/action has been taken up by the government to ease the lives of these people who are struggling to keep their family hearth burning. The difficulties and hardships of the street vendors and women’s market vendors and other daily wage earners including private school teachers who have to survive amidst the COVID-19 lockdown has been reported and discussed here.
The street vendors and other regular women’s market vendors mostly deal with essential commodities like foods ranging from rice, vegetables, fish and they normally transact a few hundred rupees a day that helped them buy a square meal for their families before the lockdown. But in fact their small business involves and benefits a chain of people right from the farmers to the lalonbis (retailers) and consumers. When these women markets, not only Khwairamband Keithel but also those all over other small towns, are not allowed to conduct their business due to the COVID-19, hundreds of thousands of people are hit badly by the closure. No doubt, there are a handful of rich Khwairamband Nupi Keithel licensed women vendors who don’t have to bother about their survival. For them the continuing lockdown does not affect their survival much except making them bored due to staying at home continuously.
On the other hand, surprisingly, the government has allowed other big business establishments whose transactions are in terms of hundreds of thousands of rupees to carry out their business which mostly deals with non-essential commodities amidst the COVID-19 lockdown.
Presently the state government allows shops which deal in clothes, shoes, stationeries, sports, utensils, crockery, electrical, paints, mattress and carpets in Thangal Bazar and shops which deal in luggage, bags, stationeries, jewellery, cosmetics and photos in Paona Bazar to open twice a week on Monday and Thursday.
Shops in Thangal Bazar which deal in aluminium construction materials, plywood, utensils, electronics, computers, mobiles and weaving yarns while shops in Paona Bazar which deal in clothes (only on eastern side), weaving yarns, cycles, computer, glass and ply, mobiles, electronics, dry cleaners are allowed to open on Tuesday and Friday.
On Wednesday and Saturday shops in Thangal Bazar which deal in motor parts, tyres, batteries, hard wares, sanitary fittings, tiles and marbles while shops in Paona Bazar which deal in clothes (only western side), shoes, sports, eye glasses are allowed to conduct their business.
Notably, the transactions of these business establishments are at the least in terms of thousands of rupees a day even though it can’t reach hundreds of thousands of rupees as carried out in pre-Covid-19 era. In comparison the women’s markets which remain closed now transact business only in terms of hundreds of rupees though some did transact in terms of a few thousands before the lockdown. One thing which can be noted is that women’s market vendors and street vendors, like the daily wage earners, don’t have extra savings to survive on, as the big business establishments which do have their reserves.
Here, it is pertinent to raise a few questions – Why has the state government failed to form a policy allowing these market women to conduct their business like other big business establishments? Can’t the women’s market stalls and sheds be opened alternately on roster as done in case of big shops? Will the COVID-19 spread only through the women vendors and their customers? Are the shop owners and salesmen and their customers immune to the COVID-19? Then why the same parameters can’t be applied to the women’s market vendors?
Meanwhile, reports say that the state government has started giving loans to women vendors to help them resume their business. But although the Manipur Government distributed working capital loans to 817 women vendors of different districts of the state on August 25, the business at Manipur’s women’s market – the heart of Manipur’s economy, remains paralysed due the COVID-19 lockdown.
According to the available information from official sources, 368 street vendors have benefited under the Pradhan Mantri Street Vendor’s Atmanirbhar Nidhi (PM SVANidhi) which was launched on June 15, 2020. This is a special micro-credit scheme for providing affordable working capital loans to street vendors to resume their livelihoods which have been affected by the COVID-19 lockdown. Under this scheme, the street vendors can avail working capital loan of up to Rs. 10,000, which is repayable in monthly instalments within the tenure of one year.
Moreover, 449 regular licensed women vendors, including 14 from the hill districts, have been provided financial assistance under the Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana (PMMY)-SHISHU for providing loans to non-farm small micro-enterprises. Reports say that the amount of loan disbursed ranges from Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 1,50,000.
Notably, speaking on the occasion of the distribution of the loans, Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren informed that loans would be provided to a total of around 20,000 vendors of the state.
But the question that crops up here is, even if 20,000 women vendors are given loan, will the difficulties and hardships being faced by the women’s market vendors of Manipur and their families be addressed?
Meanwhile, Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren also acknowledged the timely decision taken by women vendors to close the three iconic Nupi Keithels (women’s markets) after he visited Khwairamband Nupi Keithel on March 19, 2020 and discussed with women vendors about the gravity of the pandemic situation, upon which they readily agreed to close all the three Nupi Keithels from the next day. He further said that the state government understands the financial difficulties which the vendors have been facing for the last five months amid the COVID-19 lockdown.
Reports say that all this has been done in a move to facilitate the vendors resuming their vending activities which have been affected by the ensuing lockdown. Interestingly, earlier reports said that the COVID-19 lockdown has given the fast food home delivery services the avenue to deliver groceries and vegetables at the doorstep of the customers and the number of home delivery service start-up groups have surged.
However, the question that remains unanswered is – How will the women vendors resume their vending activities and repay the loans while all the women’s markets are paralysed under the lockdown?
Since big business shops are allowed to open during lockdown in Khwairamband areas from 8 am to 4 pm while women vendors in Khwairamband and other markets are totally banned from running their small business, the lockdown it seems is still a boon for big business but bane for small women vendors.
Senior Editor: Imphal Review of Arts and Politics