SARS-CoV-2, the virus that has done the world an indelible vandalization. Everything for some time came to stand still, with almost the entire world in lockdowns. But now when things are again getting in motion, the bitter facts are revealing. Millions have lost their jobs, unemployment rate around the world have sharply hiked. But what about people in ‘informal-economy’, what about the street vendors?
Without a shadow of a doubt, businesses have been hit hardest especially the small and marginal scale one. But how bad is the hit? And will they be able to retrieve in the post-COVID era?
Street vendors in India
The job full of uncertainty, street vending, falls under the informal sector of the economy. Street vending is often overlooked, as they mostly belong to the low-income category. Mostly, people who came in search of a job, but were not able to find one.
Street vending provides these people with a source of livelihood, with easy entry without much capital and self-employment. According to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, India homes 10 million street vendors.
Street Vending in India makes up 14% of the non-agricultural, informal sector job. In 2010, the Supreme court of India acknowledge street vending as a source of livelihood. On 19 February 2014, the government passes a bill, giving recognition to the street vendors with licenses.
Now street vending have become a popular business, which helps people grow with low capital. One of the most eminent examples of it is food trucks, which can now be seen on every next street of India.
How are the street vendors affected by the pandemic
After the Indian government announced nationwide lockdown with just 4 hours of prior notice; the country witnessed millions of labourers migrating back to the rural areas.
A large number of street vendors are migrant labourers. Even if those who were not, after the lockdown their business came at a complete halt. Now the nation is again allowing most of the economic activities to return back to motion. Street vendors, who along with the support of government survived the lockdowns, now conversely, find it difficult to survive the unlock.
Street vendors who were indulged in daily necessity supply like fresh vegetables and fruits do not see much hardship in retrieving to business. But those who had businesses like selling cooked snacks and food are seeing a steep downfall in their sales in the post lockdown era.
According to the World Health Organisation, it is highly improbable, of coronavirus spreading through food. But despite this fact, people are hesitating to eat outside unless some emergency. Seeing the hike of coronavirus cases in India every day, most people are preferring to stay home and only step out for essentials.
Keeping safety in mind, negligible people nowadays go to street food vendors. Almost every Indian street food, for example, gold gappa, chat, vada pav, etc are contact-based food.
All this have to lead the downfall of street food business, leaving the street food vendors in the gloom. Many of them have shifted their business for street food to those like vending vegetables, books, etc. But after months of no earning due to a lockdown, not every one of them has the capital to shift and join a completely different line of business.
Adapting to the new normal
Mohan Singh Varma is a street food vendor who sells Biryani and momo at Preet Vihar Metro Station, Delhi. He says that a number of customers every day, have fallen to 25% of the usual in the pre-COVID era.
To attract more customers, he and his fellow companions have now started practising the norms of social distancing.
He has made a partition of the plastic sheet between his stall and customer. Moreover, he has kept tables at an appropriate distance from each other to maintain distance between each coustmer.
“I have introduced new disposable packaging for the food. I now serve in silver foil containers that cost about Rs 5-6 apiece. Before I used to serve on disposable plates that cost Rs 2,” he says.
What is the future of street vendors?
The Food Safety and Standard Authority of India (FSSAI) collaborated with National Association of Street Vendors of India (NASVI) to provide street vendors like Verma and 1500 other a digital training of COVID19 food safety guidelines. The street food vendors who complete the course receive a Food Safety Training and Certification (FOSTAC) which they display to their customers for winning their trust.
From the customer point of view, it is definitely hard to again start eating from the street. However, the vendors who sell items like books, clothes etc will thrive, the main problem in the street food vendors.
NASVI has asked online food delivering platforms, for example, swiggy, zomato, etc to start delivering food from the street food vendors. But the question they raised is people eat on the street because it’s cheap; would people pay extra for delivery charges of that food?. And if the food gets delivered home, how would it be any different from restaurants, can it then be called street food?