Are hawkers losing out to corporate and chain stores? India FDI Watch and Action Aid, which studied the immediate and future impact of corporate and chain retails on hawkers, showed that hawkers' business is declining in areas of Bangalore they surveyed.
These NGOs told reporters on Tuesday that among those surveyed, 96% of hawkers and 90% of shopkeepers said their business was falling and 99% of hawkers and 72% of shopkeepers blamed it on new corporate and chain stores.
Vinod Shetty, director of the community-based organization ACORN (India), said: "Competition from new corporate and chain retail stores was the number one reason cited by respondents for decline in business. It's a direct threat to vulnerable sections of society.''
"In addition to hardships associated with illness, disability and death, hawkers deal with increased harassment and eviction drives of late. In the city, 100% of respondents said they paid regular bribes to the police and 97% said they paid municipal officials,'' Shetty added.
The study calls on policymakers to support crores of independent retailers across the country by maintaining FDI restrictions in the retail sector, preventing foreign retailers from entering the market through wholesale cash and carry, and banning corporations from engaging in retail trade.
Shetty added: "We have pledged not to support any political parties in the Lok Sabha elections unless their candidates take a stand for independent retailers.''
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Now, I would like to believe that the ones directly affected by the retail chains are the kirana shops. As far as the hawkers are concerned, their battles have been with the kirana shops, and continues to be so, apart from those with police and municipal authorities. So, the coming on of the retail chains hasn't made any difference to them. Their plight is indeed quite sad, and there is a lot of sympathy for them. But, that's a different issue altogether, and needs to be addressed separately.
By clubbing the hawkers' plight with this issue, with the talk about 'the threat to the vulnerable sections of society', the Vinod Shetty's of this world are essentially using them as a proxy in their attempts to stymie, what I would consider, a healthy development whereby the middlemen get eliminated benefiting the producers and consumers in the process.
My wife now makes a regular monthly visit to SPAR in the Oasis mall in Koramangala, and she's generally thrilled with the overall bargain that it is turning out to be, and in a pleasant ambience. For the everyday needs, however, she depends on the local kirana shop. So, all that's needed of the kirana shops is to change the approach slightly. It can be a win-win for all, except of course the middlemen.