By Gyan Pathak
When a shylock comes to rescue a person in trouble, his main motif is not to help but to derive as much benefit as he can from lending. Similar is the case prevailing in Modi Raj under which even government is charging exorbitant interest rate of 24 per cent from street vendors who are in deep trouble due to COVID-19 lockdowns. It may surprise many, especially one who remembers the Prime Minister’s ‘pakodawala’ remark on employment. He had emphasized in January 2018, when unemployment had risen 45 years high, that even selling ‘pakoda’ was a job. However, even pakodawala lost his job with the beginning of lockdown from March 25, 2020. Economy came to a grinding halt, roads were deserted, and pakoda selling completely stopped along with all kinds of street vending.
In the mid of May 2020, Prime Minister announced a stimulus package of 20 lakh crore rupees. After his announcement, his finance minister came with details for a week or so, of Atmanirbhar package of 20.97 lakh crore rupees for reviving the economy. At the time when most of the people needed economic help, the package was comprised mostly of loan amounts to be given to the needy individuals, retailers, businesses, MSMEs, and big corporate companies. Moratorium was announced on loans’ repayment, but the help was too costly to bear. Only after a legal battle, Government has agreed in the Supreme Court that government was willing to wave ‘interest on interest’ for the moratorium period. It was an attitude of a typical private moneylender. Moreover, the structure of the interests on loans to be given is not equitable. Interest rates are varied for different entities. Poorer the borrowers is, higher the interest rates to be paid. The injustice is being justified by giving even illogic.
Government has been even penalizing the poor for their poverty. For example, crores of people having bank accounts could not maintain their minimum balance requirement during COVID-19 lockdowns, and all of them were penalized. Banks earned crores of rupees through this mechanism. Government even earned by raising taxes on petroleum products when international crude oil prices were falling, and that too at a time when people were not left with money. Government was selling petrol and diesel at four times their actual cost.
As for ‘pakodawalas’ and other street vendors, Modi government had announced a scheme on June 1, 2020, the date from which unlocking of the country started. Pradhan Mantri Street Vendor’s AtmanirbharNidhi (PM SVANidhi) was launched on that day by Ministry of Urban and Housing Affairs. It is a flagship programme under which pakodawalas and other street vendors are to be provided ‘affordable’ working capital loans to resume their livelihoods that have been “adversely affected” in the wake of coronavirus pandemic. The government had also claimed that it was a special micro-credit facility for street vendors.
Government had said that the scheme intended to empower street vendors by not only extending loans to them, but also for their holistic development and economic upliftment. The scheme intends to facilitate collateral free working capital loans of upto Rs 10,000 for one year, to approximately 50 lakh street vendors in the country to help resume their businesses in the urban areas, including surrounding peri-urban/rural areas, it is claimed. However, under this sugar coating, street vendors are charged exorbitant 24 per cent rate of interest. Another sugar coating is that they will be given 7 per cent of interest subsidies if they repay their loan in 12 EMIs. This condition is unequitable because such conditions are not applied to other loans, especially given to the rich. The claim of ‘affordable’ loan to street vendors contrasts to the ‘affordable’ loans to big business, industries, and corporates, who are not only given loans at cheaper interest rates but also are given many other tax, rebates, and repayment restructuring etc benefits. The street vendors are not given any other benefits, except one of access to loan at very high interest rate.
As of now, PM SVANidhi has received 22.58 lakh applications for loan, but only about 10 lakhs have been sanctioned, and only about 3 lakhs are disbursed. It shows the operational problem in the scheme. Many of the applicants will never be able to access this fund due to various reasons ranging from procedural and eligibility related problems to inbuilt corruption in our system. Moreover, the scheme is available for beneficiaries belonging to only those states/UTs which have notified Rules and Scheme under Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014. Since the actual number of vendors is far more than the list prepared by the governments, majority of street vendors are automatically out of this scheme.
Moreover, government is taking too much time to help even the registered vendors, at a time when they have no money in their hand. Even after seven months of lockdown, only 3 lakh street vendors are actually given loan amount to restart their work, is indeed a disgusting situation. The insensitivity towards them is not acceptable, at a time when they and their family members are somehow managing to survive.
Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan is a highly impressive slogan, but government must not loot public under this name by adopting a motif of profiteering and devising every possible mechanism to derive benefit from public distress. Government has lately made several legal provisions only to exploit people and earn more and more, a trend that must stop.