Night curfew hits street food vendors
Bharat Kumar R, a street food vendor in Vijayanagar area of Bengaluru, is a worried man, like many others in the business. The extended night curfew and weekend restrictions announced by the government on Tuesday has dealt a harsh blow on the food cart vendor businesses, which were yet to recover from the last year’s lockdown in the city.
“Our business starts only after 7-8 pm. We especially cater to those who come into town late after finishing work and want food, especially bachelors and others like delivery boys, cab, auto, and bus drivers among others. There is no section that does not come to us for food,” Kumar said.
Food cart vendors, who serve dishes like egg rice, kebabs, tea and other condiments after dusk, said their businesses have come down by as much as 80%, adding that the new restrictions will further cripple their sole source of income.
The BS Yediyurappa-led government, which announced fresh restrictions to contain the surging Covid-19 cases, has allowed food delivery from hotels and restaurants during the curfew hours, but has barely taken into consideration these vendors who feed the thriving gig economy of Bengaluru, said food experts.
The government has tried to mitigate the hardships of those forced to stay back at home by allowing food and grocery delivery, fuel stations, cabs, buses and autos, medical stores, private security guards, ambulance and hospital staff among others. But the food carts, which offer a lifeline to workers in these sectors beyond regular hours, have neither got the permission to remain open nor received any financial compensation from the government this time or during the previous lockdown, they added.
“Our business begins only after 8 pm. So, when the government order is for closure at 9 pm, we have to start closing by around 7.30 pm. Almost 80% of our business has vanished. Whether it is a night curfew or a lockdown or a weekend curfew, it has the same impact on us,” Manju G, another food vendor who has a stall outside the TTMC bus stand, said.
The mobile food carts serve food for prices in the range of ₹30-60 in almost all urban centres of India, outside bus stands, railway stations, IT parks, among others.
“A lot of delivery boys from Zomato, Swiggy and cab drivers from Ola and Uber eat from carts like ours,” Kumar added.
This section of business is run mostly by families, with each member handling one aspect of the operations like cooking, cleaning, supplies and service.
Food vendors are part of a large unorganised economy of Bengaluru and other large urban centres, but the lack of a union or organisation often deprives them of bargaining powers that other sectors may have, said experts. The government announced a slew of relief during the first lockdown for weavers, auto drivers, barbers and construction workers, but an even larger section of people in various professions do not even come in the radar of the administration, vendors and political leaders said.
Being aware of the hardships people might endure if a second lockdown was announced, the Yediyurappa government tried to find a middle path with the night and weekend curfew to contain the Covid-19 surge without closure of businesses.
“We have bigger problems than corona,” said Abdul Wahab, a food cart vendor in Frazer Town area in East Bengaluru.
Karnataka Congress president DK Shivakumar said the government has failed. “The government must first instill courage in people and aid them financially,” he said.
Another Congress legislator said several sections of people were barely noticed during the previous lockdown and restrictions even this time.
“The last lockdown was almost inevitable, and we did not have any knowledge or time. We used our savings to survive the lack of income. But this time we don’t know what to do to survive,” Syed Mudabbir Ahmed, an auto driver said.