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Ground Report: Economy Is Growing, But COVID-19 Still Haunting Small Town Street Vendors

The price of edible oil, tea, pulses, meat, cooking gas and services have gone up by 20- 40 per cent since the COVID-19 pandemic began. This led to a reduction in the income of consumers.

Photo Credit : Abhishek Sharma/ BW Businessworld

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Sushil Kumar, a 38 years old man, looked surprised at the mention of India's economic recovery and GDP growth. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) in its latest World Economic Outlook report has revised the country's economic growth forecast for the ongoing financial year (FY) 2022 to 9 per cent.  

"I do not know anything about economic recovery and I don't even care, because I have not seen any changes. My condition has worsened since the COVID-19 pandemic hit us," Kumar said with teary eyes. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and several ministers of his cabinet have expressed that India might emerge as the world’s fastest-growing economy in 2022.

However, Kumar does not care. For him, it's his family of eight people who he needs to take care of no matter what. 

As far as Indian economic recovery is concerned, the story at Kumar house is different. He sells vegetables, however, his revenue has dropped sharply as COVID-19 restrictions are still intact. 

All the shops can not be open after 6:00 PM in the evening, according to COVID-19 curbs imposed by the Himachal Pradesh government 

"Evening is the time when people come out of their homes, few people leave to their homes from the office and they buy vegetables during that time, however, these curbs have made the situation worse for us," Kumar said in a crumbling voice. 

The onions, tomatoes, oranges he had bought 3 days ago, are yet to sell off, leading to a loss in revenue and an increase in spending. With a hope for a better future, Kumar, 10 years ago, came from Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh to Paonta Sahib, a city in district Sirmaur and one of the largest industrial areas of Himachal Pradesh. 

Initially, the 38 years old Kumar, worked in a private firm, however, could not continue the job due to constant exploitation at his workplace. In 2016, he left the job and started selling vegetables. Things turned bad for Kumar and his family when India indulged into nationwide lockdown and since then his monthly income continued to decline. 

"I have more than two lakh loan on me which I took from Sabji Mandi (vegetable market) and now I am not able to pay it back. I am trying my best but it is not enough," Kumar added. 

Sushil Kumar while sewing clothes in a rented shop. Picture- Abhishek Sharma/ BW Businessworld

"My wife is working in a local company (private) and I have started sewing clothes along with selling vegetables with a hope that I will be able to pay back the loan and provide proper education to my children," Kumar said with a regret of not being enough in his eyes. 

Kumar also worried that the closure of schools is affecting his children and said that they play video games all the time on the phone which he somehow managed to purchase, amid the online classes. 

"I don’t know what the Union Budget is, I just want to increase my revenue so I can pay the loan back and live a good life," Kumar wasn’t exaggerating.

After the devastating second wave, the Indian economy is back on track and growing as compared to other countries. PM Modi led central government is looking forward to USD 5 trillion economy by 2024. Last year, Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said that India will become a USD 5 trillion economy by 2024-25 and a USD 10 trillion by 2030.

However, Indians are struggling with rising living costs at a time when jobs and incomes have taken a hit, but economists are not hopeful that inflation will come down in the upcoming time. 

The price of edible oil, tea, pulses, meat, cooking gas and services have gone up by 20- 40 per cent since the COVID-19 pandemic began. This led to a reduction in the income of consumers. 

According to the data of the Ministry of Statistics, the price of retail has risen approximately 10 per cent in the last two years compared with 8 per cent in the previous five-and-half years after Modi to power in 2014. 

"I do not think that inflation is yet hurting economic growth in a very significant way. At this point, the inflation expectations one year ahead have come down by 60bps as per the latest survey of the RBI. This indicates that the current levels of inflation are not signalling any unhinging of inflation expectations," told Chief Economist at YES Bank, Indranil Pan BW Businessworld in December last year. 

Pan added that from RBI’s perspective, this should be comforting and would enable them to support the recovery process through its rate signalling an accommodative stance on policy.  

The plight of street vendors and economic recovery:

Another street vendor, Bhola Ram, in his middle 60s, lost his job due to pandemic. He is selling vegetables and opened a small grocery shop so he can earn a bit more.  

He migrated to Himachal Pradesh in 1986 in search of new job opportunities, however, COVID-19 did not spare the old man. 

I only buy around 2-3 Kgs of vegetables because half of the time, I am not able to sell this small quantity as well," said Ram while cursing his luck. 

 

Bhola Ram standing in between his two shops in the vegetable market in Paonta Sahib, Himachal Pradesh. Picture- Abhishek Sharma/ BW Businessworld

Meanwhile, according to experts, the Coronavirus pandemic has devastated India’s middle and lower-middle-class sections and the future does not look bright. 

The vendors in the small town have been the backbone of the rural economy, but, their struggles can become one of the major hurdles in economic recovery. Also, the competitive market also led to a division of revenues that forced several people to shut down their businesses. 


Tags assigned to this article:
Ground Report india economy COVID-19 Small Town street vendors