The Covid-19-inflicted hardship is opening up a new avenue for India’s over four crore hawkers with their apex body deciding to move from footpaths to the cyberspace.
After the nationwide lockdown was imposed in March to keep the virus at bay, 80 per cent of the hawkers lost business, according to an estimate of the National Hawkers Federation (NHF). Even after the unlocking process kick-started, only the remaining 20 per cent businesses could be revived due to poor footfalls in market areas, as per the figures furnished by the federation.
According to a survey conducted by the NHF in 2015, there are over four crore hawkers in India who, on an average, sell products worth ₹2,000 every day, which means the daily turnover of this informal sector is over ₹8,000 crore, said Mohit Velecha, president of the NHF’s youth wing and a key functionary of the federation in its cyber push.
He said the new normal of social distancing has compelled the hawkers’ fraternity to look beyond footpaths and therefore, the federation came up with the idea of venturing into e-commerce, utilising the huge distribution chain of hawkers. Currently, the NHF has over 20 lakh members across the country.
To implement the concept, the federation has partnered with the Netherland-headquartered start-up Qlikchain International BV that offers block-chain platforms linking small and micro trading organisations with small farmers. The Qlikchain was already running an app-based food delivery chain with some roadside eateries in Kolkata’s Salt Lake area.
Now, the federation, with the help of Qlikchain, is all set to expand services by diversifying its product range. “From vegetables to groceries and garments, everything which is being sold on the sidewalks will now be available on our digital platform,” said general secretary of the NHF, Saktiman Ghosh.
The association is coming up with a mobile application and a website christened hawkerbazar.com for the customers to place orders and get home delivery of their choicest items. The website will be formally launched by West Bengal’s Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim in Kolkata’s Bowbazar area on August 26. It will be a pilot project to be emulated in a phase-manner in other parts of the country.
Already 850 hawkers in West Bengal have enrolled themselves with the Hawkerbazar platform and another 2,000 were in the queue to get registered on the launch date, Ghosh added.
To run the operation, all these registered vendors would be brought under a cooperative society called the West Bengal State Hawker Co Operative Society, said Ghosh, who will be the chairman of the society, which is now under registration process. It will be the first ever hawkers cooperative to be registered in India. Similar, cooperatives will be formed in other parts of the country too to run the e-commerce business of the hawkers.
In Bengal, there are around 16 lakh hawkers. “Efforts would be made to bring all of them under the umbrella of the cooperative society,” Ghosh said.
Surpluses (read profit) would be distributed as dividends to members in proportion to their transactions with the co-operative society.
To begin with, cooked foods and vegetables, cereals, and spices grown using natural manures would be available on the platform in West Bengal, said Qlikchain’s founder and CEO Ayon Hazra. Gradually, more products will be enlisted with the expansion of the supply chain.
At present, it has roped in about nine farmers’ cooperatives and networks in West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Manipur for procurements.
“This direct sourcing model between sustainable and ecological farming cooperatives (natural farming methods via organic fertilisers) and street vendor cooperatives will ensure better products and price for consumers,” Hazra said.
Once launched across the country, it would help boost the economy of the two largest informal sectors in India – farmers and street vendors.
Hazra said in the next phase, the platform would be launched in six more cities in India, namely Hyderabad in Telangana; Mumbai, Pune and Thane in Maharashtra; Ranchi in Jharkhand, and Bhubaneswar in Odisha.
On how this initiative would be different from the existing e-commerce platforms, Hazra claimed hawkerbazar.com would be more transparent as customers would be able to see from where the products were sourced and at what price.