India's street vendor economy
There is a gigantic informal economy of street vendors in India which are present in every nook and corner of India.
The spicy Puchaks in the crowded Kolkata streets, the Bandhani making Rajasthan more colorful, the Bhelpuri for the Mumbaikars at Marine Drive, or the entire Sarojini Market for Delhiites—these are just a handful of examples of the same.
You can find street vendors in India for anything. You name it; they sell it. In India, street vendors sell fruits and vegetables, pans and pots, tube lights, and even chairs or tables—literally anything!
No street in the country is untouched by some type of wallah. Like the sabjiwalah (vegetable vendor) or doodhwalah (milk vendor).
And even more intriguing than what they sell is how they sell it. These street vendors are nothing short of hidden entrepreneurs who follow every step of setting up and running a business.
The creativity and sensibility with which street vendors handle their small businesses are striking in the Indian economy and their ways of handling their business bear some worthy lessons of entrepreneurship.
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Keeping it flexible
Be it adapting to the changing seasons or adapting to the demand of the locality they want to sell, you will find a street vendor being extremely flexible with their businesses.
As scorching heat hits the country, you will find a sudden increase in the baraf ka gola (ice candy) sellers and as the onset of winter comes, the same bhaiyas switch to bring you hot soup or garama garam bhuttas (roasted corn).
The breakfast poha and idli sambhar centers become biryani hotspots by noon. Nowhere else can one find a meal so cheap and fulfilling.
The small size of the business makes such flexibility possible and street vendors use every bit of that to their advantage. Their motto is that the Customer is God and they are ready to bend their business to serve whatever the people will love.
Limited but one of its kind
The Indian street vendors are well versed with the inexplicable Indian taste buds. So, they experiment and come up with some of the most unexpected variety of foods and often come up with something that becomes their specialty.
This specialty can be anything from a distinctive masala chai (tea) for all the tired employees of the IT sector or a unique chutney with the momos for college students or the extra special Maggi for the kids to love.
Just something that makes them stand out in the large fleet of similar street vendors. This specialty forms a chain of loyal customers who ensure that the vendor is always up and running and doesn’t seem bad business days too often.
Loyal customers and a personal touch to the bond
In the vast economy that is India, the street vending business is tiny but the vendors always take those extra steps to form a personal bond with their customers. Every bhajji is served with a dash of smile which, unlike the distant grin with McBurger, is pure and warm.
Most of these hidden entrepreneurs have a regular set of customers who depend on them for their day-to-day living and street vendors are always ready to go the extra mile to keep their customers happy like home delivery without being registered with food delivery giants.
Going all chic and boho
When I visited the Sarojini Nagar Market in Delhi, it was as if these vendors had sworn to dress India as chic as possible. The trendiest and the most fashionable clothes and accessories can be found at unbelievably cheap figures
The bhaiyas won’t even shy away from guiding you about all the ‘in’ in ‘it’ vogues and ensure you don’t leave their shop without buying at least a quarter of their stock.
Food vendors are not far behind in keeping up with trends. Gone are the days when street food was limited to vada pavs and chole bhature. Now there are long queues of people to try an international cuisine with a pinch of Indian tadka.
These street vendors have changed the face of the economy by serving fancy and lavish food on a paper plate with a plastic spoon.
The street vending business isn’t the easiest. It requires relentless hard work and gives no space for halts or holidays. Yet, the street vendors in India have formed a parallel economy without which the country has become unimaginable.
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Frequently asked questions
1. How do street vendors contribute to the economy?
- Street vendors provide for their family’s essentials such as food, clothing, and education and hence become a part of the economy by paying indirect taxes, fines, and fees.
2. Do street vendors pay taxes?
- Due to smaller income, most street vendors are not subject to direct taxes such as taxes on income. However, while procuring material for their business, they pay indirect taxes and also may be subject to fines, fees, and cess on various other aligned activities with their business.
3. What do street vendors sell?
- Street vendors in India sell a range of products and provide many services in public spaces. From fruits, vegetables to garments and handicrafts, street vendors sell a variety of things. Similarly, there are services such as haircuts and auto repairs also provided by these small vendors.
4. Is street vending illegal in India?
- Although street vending has been an integral part of Indian history since before the independence, street vending remained illegal until 2014 and was finally legalized under the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act.
5. How many street vendors are there in India?
- Albeit there is no official count, the government estimates showed approximately 100 lakh street vendors across the country out of which about 20% are expected to be food vendors. The numbers are subject to change in the post-pandemic scenario.