As COVID-19 infection ravages the nation’s capital, exposing critical gaps in the city’s healthcare infrastructure in a situation that has necessitated the imposition of shutdowns, which worries Praveen Kumar most , 55 these days, is all too difficult for him. tell.

Street vendor by profession who used to set up a cold drink cart every day near Delhi’s Lotus Temple, Kumar’s life has turned upside down since last year when a sudden national lockdown was announced on the 25th. March. at its doors in October after the resumption of sales activities near the main tourist attraction. However, his hopes have faltered this year, leaving Kumar in a still precarious financial situation.

“It’s been over two weeks since I made a single penny,” said a downcast Kumar. NewsClick by phone on Monday. The national capital has been stranded since April 19, as the center-crowded Aam Aadmi (AAP) government struggles to contain the new surge in infection cases in the city.

On Sunday, movement restrictions, in the face of a positivity rate that remains above 30% in Delhi, were extended for the second time by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.

The lockdown measure triggered by the virus has meant nothing but a new push into misery for myriads of street vendors in Delhi like Kumar, whose lives are marked by close existence. hear. This, despite the fact that more of the daily betting in the city is going through a fairly similar ordeal, if not worse.

Haalat bohot kharab hai shahar mein. Kitne hi saathi phir se gaanv laut gaye. Jo idhar hai unka jeewan nikalna roz mushkil hota jaa raha hai(The situation is very bad in the city. So many friends have returned to their villages. Those who remained are struggling to make ends meet), says Rajendra Srivastava, 62, a fruit-chaat seller, who ran his street vending business at the central market in Lajpat Nagar.

Plus, if this is just a repeat of the harsh reality we faced last year, this time the concerns don’t end there. Take, for example, the case of Kumar, who had to scramble last month to find an intensive care bed for his uncle after the latter tested positive for COVID-19 and subsequently complained of shortness of breath. .

“He passed away last week because we were slow to get him the right care on time. Another of my uncles is currently on oxygen and is admitted to GTB hospital. I myself am afraid of getting the infection and therefore I avoid going out. But how to say ‘no’ to help their own parents in such difficult times, ”said Kumar, who remains with his wife and three daughters.

Dharmendra Kumar of the New Delhi Chapter of the Hawkers Joint Action Committee said NewsClick Monday that his organization had received more than 175 calls from hawker families last week alone – all inquiring about the availability of oxygen cylinders, beds or any medication among other medical supplies.

“This shortage is rampant across the city and, as one would expect, marginalized groups are the hardest hit. As for the street vendors, most of whom are migrants, there aren’t many people here who they can turn to for help – especially now when even the groups well-off find themselves helpless, ”Kumar of the action committee mentioned.

SN Kushwaha, treasurer of the Indian Rehri-Patri Hawkers’ Union Center in Delhi, tended to agree. Distress calls in the wake of the recent surge in infection cases, he said, are different from those of last year when the nationwide lockdown prompted a foremost requirement, the food ration.

“Our union has had to divert resources to meet the demands of many of our members – street vendors – who are desperate to provide prompt treatment to their infected relatives,” Kushwaha said, adding that despite these efforts, “there is no there isn’t much help. possible.”

Incidentally, the general secretary of this hawker union, Shakeel Ahmed, also tested positive for COVID-19, Click on Newsclick was informed on Monday, and he himself had needed a home oxygen supply earlier last week. He succeeded in securing a cylinder, after much difficulty, only with the help of a person from Rajasthan.

“It is true that so far the unavailability of food has not yet become a problem, unlike last year,” said Kumar of the action committee. But with the extended weekly lockdown and no solace in Delhi’s positivity rate, that won’t be the case for far too long.

“On our WhatsApp group, today we received a list, respected by our community leaders in different regions, of about 3,000 street vendors who have only a few days of ration and no savings,” he said. he declares.

Alerted by this, the joint action committee is now considering relaunching its ration distribution campaign in line with what had started last year. “The only thing is that this time around, there aren’t enough funds, not a lot of volunteers available with us,” Kumar said.

Treat the PM-SVANIDHI loan as “ one-time cash assistance ”,

Last year, following sudden distress caused by the lockdown, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) launched a program for street vendors namely, PM SVANIDHI, which provided for a working capital loan of up to Rs. 10,000 to eligible suppliers without collateral.

In May of last year, Minister of Finance Nirmala Sitharaman had ad a Rs. 5,000 crore economic package for the same program which aimed to provide relief to around 50 lakh street vendors.

According to estimates shared by activists, the total number of street vendors is close to four crore across the country.

According to the scheme dashboardAs of Monday, of the 41.63 lakh street vendors who applied under the program, loans amounting to Rs. 2,013 crore have been disbursed to over 20.34 lakh street vendors. In Delhi, compared to the two lakh target, loans under the program have been disbursed at just 30,422 – less than half of the 62,288 street vendors have applied so far.

While the numbers speak for themselves, a year later, when the program was launched, new circumstances reinforce the demands made by experts all this time.

“The working capital program was conceptualized on the assumption that the loan would allow an individual to restart their distribution business. Since the latter never took off, due to closures in almost all major metropolitan cities, the loan has become another burden for the street vendor, ”explained Kumar of the action committee.

Kushwaha, of the peddlers’ union, argued that due to recent “heightened fear” of contracting the infection, much of the retailer trade has also “radically” shifted to online platforms. “It is for these reasons that we have demanded direct relief of Rs. 7,500 per month from all families not subject to income tax. It would also have included street vendors, ”he said.

Kumar, on the other hand, urged the central government led by Narendra Modi to at least treat the “working capital loan” disbursed under PM-SVANIDHI as “one-time cash assistance” now.

Click on Newsclick sent a questionnaire to Hardeep S. Puri, Minister of State (Independent Charge), MoHUA and Durga Shanker Mishra, Secretary, MoHUA. The response will be added to the report as it is received.

To be sure, when asked on Monday, Srivastava, the fruit-chaat seller, informed Click on Newsclick that he has not yet applied for the PM-SVANIDHI loan and does not plan to do so. “Many documents are needed to apply for the loan. In addition, the amount is also too low. It’s no use – especially now when I don’t know when I can take over my business, ”he said.

It’s not the same with Kumar, the cold drink vendor, however, who was sanctioned for the loan three weeks ago but has yet to receive the amount. “Things got worse with another foreclosure this year. I have not contacted the authorities for the loan disbursement since then, ”Kumar said.

Why? “Because I’m not ready to have another strain on my head – it’s to pay off the loan.”