The informal economy of Pakistan has to be the most important part of the economy because it provides livelihood, bread & butter and shelter to the underprivileged rather ignored segment of the society, the poor. Almost 35% of the contribution to the GDP is through the informal sector. The street vendors, the maids, the road side barbers, the small salons in the narrow streets of the city are all included in the informal sector and undoubtedly a source of providing employment and income to a larger chunk of society.
Not even a decade old, there used to be the early morning voices of street vendors with moveable carts going in streets and providing the services to the people. Interestingly, the phenomena of Street Vending is not specific to Pakistan but is happening throughout the world in one shape or another. There are multiple categories and levels of street vending i.e. moveable (Chabri/Pheri) and immovable (kiosks/ Khokas).
Over time, people in the major cities of the country got conscious about their security, which was threatened by the existence of street vendors. They moved to gated societies and so the number of movable street vendors drastically decreased because the guards at the gate and police in key areas of the city would stop them. So, desperate to earn for their families, street vendors took a new form and fixed their places as khokhas.
The current situation of street vending in the country’s capital is devastating. CDA actions are wiping out street vendors in trying to beautify the city and expand roads for the privileged class. A prominent business person from a mainstream area of the city said “Ghareeb ka yahan kya kam?” (What business do the poor have here?). Perhaps CDA is being forced to do this by the elite. This represents the general thinking of the privileged in the city which is not allowing the poor to survive.
There are over 500 street vendors in different areas of the capital in khokas earning their living. They live with the constant fear of having their belongings and khokas confiscated in a raid at anytime. These are only returned with a bond to not set it up again. Their pleas aren’t reaching the ears of the people sitting in power; they need to earn as well, and they need to survive for the sake of their kids and themselves. No place in the world can survive without the survival of the poor, no economy can grow without the poor. And no dreams of an educated population and developed country can come true until we give the underprivileged the right to education and employment.
Street vending is not only providing food to a family, but often also generates employment. In the tough times of Covid-19, the world is seeing a shift in job patterns and new rules for work. Many companies across the world have laid off their employees and left them in misery. Many of those have shown willingness to at least have one kiosk of their own to survive the pandemic. This shows just how impactful street vending can be. The donations and limited monthly allowances being offered aren’t the solution to eradicating poverty and problems faced by the poor. The government can and should provide spaces to facilitate street vendors. This will save them from the misery and pain of getting eradicated and rebuilding time and again.
PIDE and PRIME are advocating for street vending and made a plea for the poor heard in the government. They have proposed a law that will play a part for the betterment of society. Dr. Sania Nishtar, the CDA, and PIDE signed an MoU – the Ehsaas Street Hawkers’ Initiative – for protecting street vendors rights. This initiative will also play a role in the upward mobility of the vulnerable class. We are hoping the things will be better in future for the poor.
The street vendors are not only trying to play their roles in order to earn their living and help in the economy, but also play a role in adding beauty to the country. In the words of Dr. Nadeem ul Haque, “why can’t there be khokhas next to the Governor’s House, Gymkhana, Punjab Club and the Corps Commander house in Lahore”, when they can be outside White House and Buckingham palace. We just need properly planned spaces in order to give a boost to our economy and a proper living to the poor. As in the past, Lahore attempted tp formalize street vending by establishing a drive-through bazar. Sadly it didn’t survive for long. Wiping out street vending isn’t the solution to anything but creating a larger problem for the development and economy of the country.