RTI reply on PM SVANidhi Scheme for street vendors in India reveal glaring details
Street vendors are integral to our country’s informal economy. The Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown that ensued adversely impacted the lives of thousands of street vendors across the country. The central government introduced the PM SVANidhi scheme in June 2020 to provide financial loans as working capital to the street vendors to help them resume their businesses. But the scheme is fraught with multiple issues and has failed to achieve its objectives.
Venkatesh Nayak, Director, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, speaks to The Probe’s Ashutosh Dixit on the PM SVANidhi scheme.
The PM SVANidhi scheme falls under the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, and the prime objective of the project is to issue loans to the street vendors, incentivise regular repayments, and reward street vendors for digital transactions.
“The idea of providing loans to the street vendor community who mostly belong to the marginalised sections was a very noble concept. Under this scheme, three categories of loans are given to the street vendors. The first is a Rs 10,000 loan. The second is a Rs 20,000 loan for people who have repaid in full the first loan amount of 10,000 rupees. The third category is a Rs 50,000 loan. Apart from that, the beneficiaries are granted a 7 per cent interest subsidy under this scheme. According to the government of India, this scheme covers only 75 cities, but all street vendors are not concentrated in 75 cities. They are there in every district of the country. There are more than 720 districts in India. Why has such a huge population been left out from availing the benefits of the scheme?” asks Venkatesh Nayak, Director of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.
Nayak has been closely tracking the implementation of this project. After he found that the government website did not have details regarding data related to the scheme, he filed an RTI application before the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) in May 2022. In the RTI, he sought replies from the government regarding the State and UT-wise list of street vendors belonging to the SC, ST, OBC, General and PwD (Divyangjan) categories who had applied for such loans and to whom the loans were disbursed. He also sought details regarding the list of street vendors belonging to the minority communities who had applied for loans and the entire list of beneficiaries who had repaid the loans they had availed from the government. This apart, he sought information related to beneficiaries who had defaulted in loan repayments, the details regarding the interest subsidy given to the beneficiaries and several other questions that would provide deeper insights into the project’s implementation.
“I was taken aback when I got the replies from the government on my queries. In its own language, the government has called the street vendors who could not repay loans “Non Performing Assets”. This is not my language. This is the government’s own language. The data indicate that the government had categorised almost 15.88 per cent of the loans as NPAs. I found out through the replies that after receiving loans of 10,000 rupees and subsidised interest, many street vendors could not repay the loan. Even when they knew that they would get 20,000 and subsequently 50,000 if they paid off the loan, they were still unable to repay it. This shows the inability of the economy to provide these street vendors sufficient earnings,” says Nayak.
The Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act of 2014 was enacted by the government to protect the rights of urban street vendors and to regulate street vending activities.
“There are certain requirements prescribed under the law to identify street vendors as street vendors in the eyes of the government. Only those identified as such by the government will be eligible to be beneficiaries of the scheme. But there are no estimates, facts, or figures related to the number of street vendors in the country. I strangely also found that people who had repaid the first loan were not going back to seek the second loan. We found that around 40 to 50 per cent of beneficiaries were from the OBC category and 29 per cent were from the general category, and the lowest category was from the Scheduled Tribes. A large number of street vendors belong to the most downtrodden segments of our society and they are also spread across rural parts of the country. The question is, why are so many of them out of this scheme’s purview,” asks Nayak.
According to the RTI reply, a total of 48.70 lakh applications were received for the first and the second loan from across the country since the inception of the PM SVANidhi scheme but only 607 of these were submitted by street vendors belonging to the minority communities. One of the most glaring findings from the replies that Nayak received was that only 0.01% of beneficiaries of the scheme were from minority communities, and less than 1% of beneficiaries were people with disabilities. “The data that the ministry provided shows that in all of Uttar Pradesh, only 12 people from the minority communities had applied for the first loan and got the first loan. But after that, nobody from the minority communities applied for the second loan. So, this is a cause for concern. Many people suspect that the data is not being captured properly, and in the current atmosphere in the country where there is so much polarisation, I feel that the street vendors may not want to identify themselves as minorities,” rues Nayak.
He claims that he has found that 75 per cent of the beneficiaries are from seven states and one Union Territory, which shows that the government has not uniformly implemented the scheme across all states. He now plans to write to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs about his analysis of the RTI replies. “The implementation of this scheme has been done hastily, and the government’s own documents proves this. Many street vendors in our country today are reeling under the effects of inflation. The government should revise this scheme and tie all the loose ends. Most of us rely on street vendors entirely for our vegetables, fruits and other daily supplies. It’s time we as a society also looked at their working conditions, and gave them a voice as they most often do not have the means to stand up for their own rights,” says Nayak.
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