Amid COVID-19, vendors passing through trying times in Srinagar

Suhail Bhat

Srinagar, May 20: Around 3000 vendors who earned their livelihood by selling merchandise on roadsides of Srinagar are finding it hard to make their ends meet as they are running out of savings owing to the pandemic lockdown.
The vendors said although the Government has mentioned them in the recently announced Rs 20 lakh crore stimulus package, the administration of Kashmir has so far done nothing. “Street vendors were mentioned in the package which was announced to provide relief to various sections of an economy battered by the Coronavirus lockdown, but we are yet to hear anything from our administration,” Suhail Ahmad, a vendor told Excelsior. He added neither the administration nor any NGO has come forward to help them.
He is one of the 400 vendors who earned their livelihood by selling merchandise in the lone flea market of Srinagar known as the Makkah Market. He alleged that they have been left to fend for themselves as no one visited them in the lockdown period. He is worried that it would be hard for them to make it through the lockdown with their meager savings. “I am running out of money and have no idea how to run my family affairs if the lockdown persists,” he said.
As per the figures of the Srinagar Municipal Corporation, there are around 3,000 street vendors who run their business on the roadsides across the city. “They all come from economically weaker sections of society. They do not save much and their saving would usually last for a week or two. Worse, their monthly income varies from Rs 10, 000-20,000 a month and the majority of them are the sole bread earners of their families,” an official at SMC said.
During the past shutdowns that Kashmir witnessed over the years, the vendors said, they used to take up various odd jobs to help their families like selling petrol or working as a laborer. However, the COVID-19 outbreak has confined them to their homes, leading to increasing concerns about how to make up for this drop in earnings.
Naseer Ahmad, president of the Batamaloo Vendors’ Association told the Excelsior that he has been receiving distress calls from the vendors every day. “These people earn hand to mouth and have no alternate means of livelihood. I get calls every day from vendors who are worried about their limited stock,” he said. The people who have ailing parents at home are the worst sufferers. “They are finding it very difficult to get medicine for their ailing parents,” he said. Naseer represents around 600 vendors who run their business in the Batamaloo area, which is one of the busiest areas of the city.
He added that they were hopeful that the lockdown would be eased in this month, but that did not happen. “The vendors often visit my home these days for cash or food items. Recently a vendor asked for some money to treat his ailing child. I also dropped food packets at some homes. The situation is bad. People who sell items like crockery and readymade things are worst sufferers,” he said.
What makes their situation worse, the vendors said, is back-to-back lockdowns which Kashmir has witnessed in the last eight months. “The lockdown which Kashmir witnessed after the abrogation of Article 370 kept these vendors away from their work for seven months and exhausted all their savings,” he added.
Mohammad Akbar Sofi, Chief Revenue Officer SMC told Excelsior that they are serious about the issue and would soon provide them financial assistance. “Government is very serious about it. We are checking the list. We will soon provide them financial assistance,” he said.

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