Even as markets across the city were allowed to open up in a staggered fashion last week, Delhi’s street vendors said a lack of clarity on the state government’s part has kept them from resuming weekly markets. While Delhi government officials said weekly markets could reopen, provided they ensured social distancing, police said civic agencies would need to give them permission.

With social distancing now obligatory in view of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic, street vendors’ associations, some resident welfare associations (RWAs) and market associations demand that the government demarcate dedicated vending zones, in accordance with the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014.

Usually, vendors in weekly markets usually line up their carts and shops in packed lanes, right next to each other, and attract large crowds, making ensuring social distancing a task.

The exact number of weekly markets in the Capital and vendors associated with them is not known. In fact, civic agencies are yet to begin surveys to identify genuine vendors in Delhi as per the Street Vendors Act.

Street vendors are still to reopen their shops even in popular markets like Connaught Place, Karol Bagh, Sarojini, Lajpat Nagar. While some vendors in smaller local markets have reopened businesses, confusion is still writ large.

Rajiv Kumar Gupta (45), head of a weekly market in east Delhi’s Madhu Vihar, said local authorities have asked them to wait till at least May 31. “There are 100-odd vendors in the weekly market we used to set up in Madhu Vihar, Mandawali, Vinod Nagar and other places across the week. We have now been told to wait till May-end,” Gupta said.

While the Delhi government’s order regarding relaxation in lockdown norms in the fourth phase explicitly mentions that markets can open, following an ‘odd-even’ arrangement, it does not mention weekly markets and street vending.

Monika Bhardwaj, DCP (north), said it is not possible to allow weekly markets since they generally operate in the evening, when complete restrictions on movement, except essential services, are in effect. “They are unable to operate because the lockdown comes into effect at 7pm everyday, which is around the time weekly markets open,” she said.

A senior Delhi government official aware of the matter said street vendors can start work, but have to ensure social distancing, and adhere to the odd-even sequence. “As for weekly markets, civic agencies have to devise a mechanism to ensure social distancing,” the official said.

Another senior government official said there weekly markets can operate provided social distancing is ensured, but also said it was up to civic bodies to ensure a social distancing mechanism.

The National Association of Street Vendors of India (NASVI) said municipal agencies should start work at developing dedicated vending zones.

Arbind Singh, national coordinator, NASVI, said, “The creation of dedicated vending zones in the National Capital is long-pending demand. It should have been done immediately after the Street Vendors Act was passed in 2014, but it is even more important now as social distancing has to be ensured.”

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