GUWAHATI, April 17 - Rising demand of perishable farm produce amongst the Guwahatians has encouraged small traders and vendors from the outskirts as well as the far-flung places to congregate in the capital city with their local produce like grains, vegetables and poultry.
Guwahati has, of late, emerged as an attractive market for people who now travel (between 20 to 200 km) from settlements in Nagaon, Barpeta, Kharuptia and Rangiya with their produce to the markets in the city. Vending, therefore, has become an occupation not only for the poor but also for farmers.
One of the factors behind the growing demand of local produce is awareness about health, which has seen citizens picking up local leafy and other vegetables that have medicinal properties.
Though the health factor has prompted more footfalls in some of the oldest markets like the Kacharighat market, Beltola and Ulubari markets, where the indigenous people sell their assortment of vegetables, the prevailing conditions in these markets call for immediate intervention by the authorities concerned.
As per the report prepared by the North East Network, Guwahati, Centre for Urban Equity, Ahmedabad and the Society for Social Transformation and Environment Protection, these marginalized sections of society have been facing many issues, including transport woes, which have affected their business.
Many vendors travel from areas as far as Barpeta (95 km away) to Beltola market. For them, travelling by rail is cheaper than road and hence they prefer to transport their wares in passenger compartments of trains, often illegally. Trains stop at stations for very short durations, and as a result, female vendors find loading very difficult.
�Passengers object to vendors bringing their wares into their compartments. It leads to frequent verbal and sometimes physical conflicts, often resulting in them missing the train,� said a member of the Society for Social Transformation and Environment Protection, adding that owing to the lack of proper transport options, vendors bear additional economic, emotional and physical losses while transporting their wares from their settlement to the market place.
Passengers often complain to the Railway Protection Force (RPF) and the Government Railway Police (GRP) personnel about the vendors. The RPF/GRP personnel in turn, harass the vendors, collecting bribes from each vendor per trip. Sometimes, they get into physical conflicts.
�When vendors are unable to sell their entire stock in a day or miss the last train to return home, they are forced to stay back in the city at night. Owing to the absence of night shelters and storage spaces, they spend the night at the railway station and many end up losing their money and goods to thieves while asleep on the railway platform,� said the member.
For the vendors, the city not only turns unsafe at night, but there is also additional burden of economic costs of having to spend the night in the city. Female vendors have often been exposed to sexual harassment in addition to other problems reported by male vendors while sleeping on the railway platform.
Conflicts due to lack of space has become common of late. Earlier, vendors cooperated with each other to adjust space for displaying each other�s wares. However, congestion in the markets has led to vending space-based conflicts. For instance, most female vendors in the Beltola market occupy a space between six to 12 square feet per stall, while most male vendors occupy more than 35 sq feet space per stall. This has become has a matter of tension between female and male vendors.
Another issue faced by the vendors is the lack of storage space. Vendors face problems in storing unsold goods, weighing instruments and plastic sheets that provide them protection from the elements. As per the report, around 72 per cent and 47 per cent vendors in the Beltola and Ulubari markets respectively are unable to store their wares. They often sell off the remaining goods, mainly vegetables, at throwaway prices by the end of the day. Many vendors rent rooms near the market for staying as well as for storing. Around 17 per cent Ulubari market female vendors use storage spaces rented by the local women vendors� committee while 27 per cent vendors store their wares behind their vending spaces.