Hawking Nothing

Plight of Railway Hawkers

Atanu Sengupta & Asish Pal

Railway hawkers who work in station area and trains throughout the day are basically daily income earners with wide fluctuations in daily income. All these informal labourers are from the unorganised sector. They are marginalised in the society. In the Covid pandemic situation their lives and livelihoods are challenged.The hawkers are now jobless. They have no income, unable to maintain their families in the continuing lockdown period. Despite the government intervention they are living in sub-human conditions.

According to CNBC report (March, 2020), India's move to put its 1.3 billion people in unprecedented lockdown to contain the coronavirus outbreak will disproportionately hurt the informal sector. Then nobody bothers about toilers living on sub-minimum earnings.

A very recent survey, conducted by (NCAER) National Council of Applied Economic Research included 1,750 participants covering both rural and urban areas of Delhi on (April 3-6, 2020), showed that casual labourers were disproportionately affected with nearly 75% stating their wages were severely affected which is less than half, at 46% for salaried employees (April 13, 2020).

As per ILO report (April,2020), it is estimated that almost 1.6 billion workers in the informal economy have been significantly impacted by the Covid -19 pandemic, leading to an estimated decline in their earnings of 60%.

Like demonetisation, the current lockdown has exposed millions of workers and their families to starvation, hunger, death and very black future prospects.

In truth, about 22% workers lost their jobs and 31% faced partial unemployment amid the lockdown in three North Indian states.

About 45% of our railway hawkers are between 26-40 years of age while 25% are in the lower age group. However, 22% are in 40-50 years age group and only 8% are above 50. In case of family size, 38% respondents hold 4-8 family members, 56% is in small scale family size while 6% of the sample hawkers are in larger family group. Considering the job experience of them one sees only 14% have above 20 years of job experience, 34% have1-10 years of job experience while some 52% have 11-20 years of experience behind them.

The sample hawkers complain that they are unable to work in agricultural, rural non- farm areas. Maximum respondents are not getting also other job. They fear how they will spend the coming days with their families. According to Gram Panchayat pradhan of a selected rural habitat, lockdown has forced some of these people to work under the ‘MGNREGA programme’ by using the job card of other registered persons on a commission basis.

However, when asked about their willingness to come back to railway hawking when lockdown ends, most of the respondents are too eager to stay with their present work. However 11% remained non-responding.

 Lockdown situation has made these subalterns jobless. Like all other economic agents of all sectors they have also faced huge financial loss in India in this time. The Government is yet to announce any meaningful policy to address the problem of hundreds of thousands of Railway hawkers.

Vol. 53, No. 12, sep 20 - 26, 2020