Innovation from/with/for grassroots street workers:
I don’t know how many people in our country can claim that they have never either bought anything or used any service provided by street vendors. And yet, when policy and institutional space for improving their occupational and living conditions has to be expanded, they are often left to fend for themselves. SEWA has been struggling since 1972 for a national law to protect the interests of vendors. The Street Vendors [Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending] Act 2012 was supposed to make a difference to their lives. Arbind Singh recently organized a Street Food Festival in Delhi in this week. National Association of Street Vendors of India [NASVI] has grown over the years and today represents 21.70 lacs workers in the unorganized sector.
There are several issues regarding the street vending which need to be addressed by technologists, policy makers and municipal authorities. Innovations in the design of the cart, vending tools, protocol for hygiene in case of food, quality control, bio waste management, etc., are waiting to happen in a big way. There are several innovations that have been tried by the vendors themselves. If you want cold coconut water, then Vinod Mahadevia’s device in Bangalore awarded by National Innovation Foundation [NIF] may be worth looking at. Similarly, a cart which has brakes and can be turned without lifting based on the idea of Nidhi Kumar from Bihar, a school student is also available with NIF. We need many more innovations for improving the conditions of workers and women in the coming year.
When I visited night shelters in Delhi, there were no shelves to put the bedding and other belongings. No matter how poor, people need lockers to put their small savings and other things aside. Every city ought to have walls with lockers for the street workers. Till we can provide roof over every head, can we not provide at least a small locker. More we live with the inertia in dealing with the problems of street workers, the less incumbent it becomes for the policy makers to give it a sense of urgency. Whenever there is a VIP movement or a major celebration, the street vendors have to make way for better security and aesthetics. It is not too difficult to provide some compensation to such affected people who understand the security compulsions. Instead of providing cheap food to those who don’t need, should we not first ensure that all street workers get subsidized foods. My sanjay Prasad, Labour and Employment Department, Gujarat recently showed me an identity card given to more than a crore workers [many of them without permanent residence] with a QR code. Such cards need to be given to all the workers to provide them health, insurance, education entitlements. Entrepreneurial solutions need to be found for education of the children of mobile population.
DRDO has developed a bio digester which has a continuous processing system. The bio waste gets converted into manure very quickly. The state can acquire the IP rights of the technology and make it available at no cost or low cost, just as NIF has done through www.nifindia.org/gtiaf to food vendors. Dheeraj, a young graduate launched an Android app [street saathi] which helps the consumers find out which food is available by which vendor in which area. The first such app which brings street food vendors on a common platform. Dheeraj accompanied his father who used to sell clothes on the street in Agra. Thankfully, he got educated, got a job with a big company but didn’t forget his roots. The app followed his commitment to expand the market for the food vendors.
The Honey Bee Network will give awards at Sattvik 2015 for the best innovation from/with/for street workers, particularly food vendors. Many of them help conserve biodiversity by using less common but more nutritious ingredients. Those who want to meet Arbind, Secretary of NASVI should register for the third iccig.org and meet him and many others who work with extremely disadvantaged street workers and try to improve their lives. There will be many other innovations on display at iccig.org [January 19-22, 2015] at IIMA which might trigger your own imagination and help you engage with knowledge rich, economically poor people. Delegates from many parts of the world are attending the conference. Lessons from and for grassroots will be shared to reinforce the linkage between formal and informal sector. Some scholars have rightly questioned the logic of calling a sector engaging more than 70 per cent people as informal. Any thoughts