Nagaland government yet to implement Street Vendors Act
Kohima, July 18 (EMN): Women in Nagaland who are engaged in vending edibles from forests and locally grown products play a crucial role in the economy of the state despite being from rural backgrounds or are simply trying to earn and sustain their families.
These women are forced to carry out their businesses on the footpaths and pavements due to lack of proper infrastructure, with no storage facilities or access to other amenities. Their vending spots are often located at unhygienic sites or are exposed to other risks while they bear the brunt of nature with no safety and protection.
The Central Government in 2014, had passed the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014; however, till date the same has not been implemented in Nagaland, in principle and in practice.
Moreover, the street vendors are facing hard times with the Covid-19 pandemic, which is affecting their livelihoods besides other problems.
One street vendor, Sarah shared with Eastern Mirror that the pandemic has cost them and their business dearly. Sourcing the products from the suppliers or the chain of transportation have become a problem due to the lockdown, she shared and added that curfew rules have restricted transportation and they are forced to get their products late at night or early in the morning.
She further said that unlike other days, they cannot stock the products in bulk due to the imposition of marketing days and time. Products get rotten or spoiled and sometimes they fall short of the demand from the customers wherein they even fail to meet the capital invested and go at a loss, she said.
Nonetheless, there are agencies in the state advocating and raising the concern of the street vendors and have been working to educate, impart and sensitise the rights of the street vendors.
According to a survey on the impact of the pandemic conducted by Entrepreneurs Associate (EA) in 2020 for the street vendors in Kohima, 91% of the women who responded stated that they didn’t have the capital to re-launch their business and required a loan. This meant that they had used up their savings and many were stated to have been living from hand to mouth.
Meanwhile, analysis of another local survey conducted by EA this year revealed that ‘last year they had some savings to survive but if the lockdown continues in the state they would have no savings’, moreover some were stated to have left for their village as survival had become a challenge.
Although there are welfare schemes or loans available, it was learnt that many are uneducated, illiterate or do not possess an Aadhaar card to avail the same.
Entrepreneurs Associate (EA) is one organisation that has been extensively working for the welfare of the street vendors in terms of imparting training and also encouraging them with various programmes. Head of Communication ,EA, Neikule Doulo shared that as an organisation, they have been working with vendors since October 2017 with a holistic approach that covers not only one aspect of requirement but many components such as financial literacy, health, awareness of legal issues and policies that are favourable for them (street vendors) under the government.
‘We have been closely observing that many of the street vendors do not have and enjoy basic dignity of a human being which we are entitled to, in the sense that in the workplace, they are working in the absence of proper toilets, running water, and these are basic human rights which are being violated because these kinds of facilities should be provided by the state,’ stated Doulo.
‘In the last few years that we’ve been working, we are really happy to note that certain changes are definitely happening because of the awareness that is being created: first and foremost, we see more toilets coming up and the Kohima Municipal Council, many of them have also acknowledged that the awareness of sensitisation has helped them to think more in terms of the needs and the welfare of the street vendors. This is a very interesting, very encouraging step towards the goals that we have, which is to provide more dignity to street vendors, even in the years to come,’ she added.
She also expressed happiness that even in their work with legal services, there has been a lot of improvement in the way the legal sector is noticing the street vendors.
Street vendors play vital role
Doulo asserted that in the past, ‘maybe many people overlooked the importance of street vendors in our community, and the work that we are doing has helped to highlight the importance of street vendors in the rural economy.’
She pointed that last year during the pandemic, ‘when street vendors were not allowed to sit in the marketplaces, there was a lot of hue and cry in society because there was shortage of vegetables, there was shortage of foods and local products, even to the point where the local administration began to see how people will be able to source these local products back into the markets’, she said adding that it was a crucial time for the street vendors as people realised that they played a crucial role in linking the rural economy with the urban centres.
She also maintained that the pandemic showed us (the society) that they are a vital part of our rural economy.
Many of the vendors that EA worked with or many of the vendors that they are in touch with faced a lot of difficulties because many of them were sole breadwinners, and their families were totally dependent on the income that they bring home.
She also informed that when they were not allowed to sit in the marketplaces and do their businesses, there was no income in the families and they had to use their savings in order to tide through the pandemic.
“Of course they were afraid of the virus but a lot of them say that ‘I think if the lockdown continues even last year or maybe even this year if the lockdown continues, we are not going to die of the virus but they are going to die because they do not have food on the table’. So these are crucial issues that are very helpful in helping us understand the role of the vendors in the rural market and at the same time, show us the humane side of the life of the vendors where they have huge difficulties to do the job that they are doing”, said Doulo.
She went on to state that the service they are providing to the market, economy, society is often overlooked.
It was informed that EA has been working with the churches very closely, and working in legal services with the government to sensitise them on the issues of street vending.
‘We feel that only educating or creating awareness in one sector of the society is not going to help and it has to be the whole approach of trying to sensitise the whole community to see that they are vital growth of the economy,’ she shared.
She highlighted that in the marketplaces, even in terms of different shops or marketplaces in Nagaland, the percentage of local people doing business would only be roughly 40 to 50%, but in street vending or in the businesses related to local products –vegetables, fruits and dried pulses and grains — women comprises of about 80% of the whole market force, with smaller street vending activities playing a huge role.
Doulo also asserted that the street vendors were working ‘very well, organised and systematic approach’ in the way the vegetables and local products were brought to the state economy — women in the villages growing vegetables and fruits and supplying it to the other women who would be bringing it from the villages to urban centres, thus forming the link between the rural economy and the markets.
Moreover, there are also another group of women who grow the products themselves and then sell it in their own markets, particular those living in and around Dimapur and Kohima and also in some other urban areas. They sell their produce in the weekly bazaars, which Doulo said was an ‘interesting component’ of street vending in Nagaland.
The Street Vendors Act of 2014 has not been enacted in Nagaland even though the policymakers as well as people in the legal sector have all voiced a concern that this has to be enacted very soon, she shared.
‘However, there’s a lot of work that still needs to be done, and it’s still going to probably take some time for the enactment of the law, but this law definitely needs to be enacted, even in Nagaland so that the street vendors will be able to enjoy the rights and the certain facilities that they are entitled to once the Act is properly in place,’ said Doulo.
Further, she asserted that EA has also been lobbying for the Street Vendors Act so that the women street vendors can enjoy certain basic rights, and enjoy a dignified way of earning their livelihood.
Meanwhile she also pointed out that many street vendors are not confident to fight for themselves, as they come from the poorer section of the society — most of them are dropouts, or most of them could be single mothers and widows.
‘The women have also realised that it can be just an investment that is done daily and they can sell and then repay the creditors or they can sell and earn some profit and bring it home for many other reasons,’ she added.
This on the other hand leaves them vulnerable to problems such as falling prey to money lenders, and people who are illegally collecting tax, because these women don’t know who the legal tax collectors are as they are neither informed nor educated and they are not confident to voice their grievances, she revealed.
She added that for anybody to live a life of dignity, it is important that a person have a sense of confidence to be able to fight for oneself.
Further she maintained that when they impart training and educate them, these women are playing a vital role in the rural economy and contributing to the society and she expressed hope that they will be able to stand up to fight for themselves. “Maybe in the future they should come up with an Association for their own, a federation for themselves so that they can voice their concerns voice their grievances”, she shared.
She said that EA is a catalyst trying to help the vendors be more confident and more resilient.
(This is the first of a two-part series.)