Unmoored, Callous “Policy”

There is virtually and really no city in the world where there are no street vendors. From New York to Berlin to European cities, everywhere, street vendors can be seen. In the less developed parts of the world, street vendors form what is called the “unorganized sector”- a sector , which in the words of the famed economist, Hernando de Soto, is economically invisible. De Soto also coined the term, “ dead capital”- that is, capital which cannot be traded, for those who live in the netherworld of the unorganized sector. The administration in Kashmir, instead of helping and assisting these people is bent on removing them(by force) from the streets. This is as cruel and callous as can be. Besides catering to the needs of those whose purchasing power is restrictive and even providing livelihood(s) for themselves , the unorganized sector, can also be said to constitute a vital sector in its own right. While it is not clear why the administration wants to remove the street vendors of Kashmir, it may be speculated that this is an attempt to declutter and decongest the city while making it aesthetically pleasant. But, this is being done at the expense of the bearers of “Dead capital” or the unorganized sector. Where, the question is, will these people go? In the absence of clear cut property rights and very little, if any, formal question, street vending is not a choice for these vulnerable people but a compulsion. Instead of proving them with viable and sustainable livelihoods, these hapless people are being displaced. How is the question? An “issue” that essentially arises from the decrepit economy and even political economy of Kashmir coupled with urban decay, street vendors of Kashmir must be rehabilitated. One obvious measure could be to provide then with designated locales to conduct their business(es) in. The other, more potent, would be to make them bankable. Commercial or even quasi publicly owned banks do not even deign to look at these people (Most do not even have bank accounts). What could and must be done is to devise measures to make them credit worthy and policies to ensure a credit flow to these economically vulnerable people so that they can start viable, small businesses. The issue here would be collateral and tradability of their assets. This could be resolved, by De Soto’s prescription of having clear titles and property rights to their homes. The street vendors of Kashmir, are in the final analysis, a vulnerable segment of society who are owed a special obligation. Instead of driving them underground and on the run, so to speak, they should be afforded economic opportunity and a dignified life.