Bengaluru’s street vendors are the first to be impacted by climate change: Lekha Adavi

Lekha Adavi, member of AICTU, says the nature of street vending has changed in the city due to the impact of climate change.

(This is part 1 of the interview with Lekha Adavi on the impact of climate change on Bengaluru’s street vendors)

On May 1st, while the world celebrated Labour Day, Bengaluru recorded its highest temperature in 40 years. With temperatures continually on the rise, one of the most affected groups are street and peripatetic vendors (vendors who operate on foot or with push carts). In this interview, Lekha Adavi, member of the All India Centre of Trade Unions (AICTU), talks about the effect of climate change on street vendors. Excerpts:

portrait of Lekha Adavi
Lekha Adavi, member of the All India Centre of Trade Unions (AICTU). Pic: AICTU

In Bengaluru, the current temperature surge is unprecedented. How is the extreme weather affecting the livelihoods and working conditions of street vendors in the city?

Lekha: We have given a letter to the government to provide shelter to the street vendors from not just the heat but also the rains. Even though street vendors produce zero pollution, they are the first to be impacted by climate change.

In the heat, vegetable vendors are affected as green vegetables and fruits dry up. Flower vendors are similarly affected. Vendors can’t sit for long hours on the streets. There are also health impacts. There are a lot of women vendors on the street and they hardly drink water because they don’t have access to public toilets. Most of them already have health issues, which get aggravated in the heat.

It is the duty of the government to ensure that all citizens are protected. They must provide street vendors with umbrellas or allow them to put a tarpaulin over their stalls. Generally, what happens is that if they use any such shade, they (municipal authorities or police) come and tell them that they are occupying too much space and that this is not their permanent space. So, they can’t even have any protection over their heads, even in the heat, and they are forced to leave the footpath.

So, we have asked the authorities to not just provide street vendors shade but also highlighted the challenges faced by peripatetic vendors. For them, it is not just about shade, it is also about access to drinking water, access to toilets, a place to rest, among other things. In Bengaluru, parks are closed by 11 or 11:30 am, the gates are locked so the peripatetic vendors don’t have any public space where they can take rest during the day, under a tree or in the shade.

We have also asked the government to give a heat risk allowance. Additionally, during the COVID-19 lockdown, street vendors couldn’t come out to sell their goods , and they were asked to leave.

So, the State government had announced Rs. 2000 as a risk allowance because the vendors were not able to carry out their livelihood. The central government gave them loans and the state government had announced some form of allowance, but it was a pittance.

About Lekha Adavi

Lekha, a lawyer-activist, has worked with street and peripatetic vendors in Bengaluru for over a decade. As part of AICTU, she has been advocating for the economic rights of street vendors and mobilising them to influence broader political discourse.

Read more: Bengaluru’s street vendors: A vibrant community deprived of rights

How do street vendors in Bengaluru cope with the challenges of changing weather conditions? What strategies or coping mechanisms have they employed to deal with these conditions on their businesses?

Lekha: They have changed their vending timings. Not all of them are able to work throughout the day, they work early hours in the morning and after sunset.

Of course, that has affected their livelihood because the more they are on the street, the more business there is. So, when they are not there on the street, the footfall is also reduced.

Has there been any disparity in the impact of extreme temperatures on different categories of street vendors (e.g., food vendors vs. merchandise vendors)?

Lekha: It is about how you look at these disparities. It is only in terms of what kind of loss they are facing. If it is somebody who is selling fruits and vegetables, which are perishable, they are definitely much more impacted than those who are selling clothes, or footwear, jewellery or any other plastic items.

So, that way you can’t estimate what and how they are impacted because ultimately, for all of them, irrespective of what they sell on the street, the timings have changed. The nature of street vending has changed because of climate change. So, in terms of that, everybody is undergoing a loss.

(Part 2 of the series will focus on the impact of the improper implementation of the Street Vendors Act on Bengaluru’s street vendors)

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