The other major constituency with whom ACORN India is undertaking an initiative is the hawkers. Hawkers are street vendors who sell stuff from portable carts. A large chunk of the population of India still buys daily food, and even clothes, books, newspapers from these street vendors. Hence the emergence of big retail stores like Reliance and others is a direct assault on the livelihoods of the hawkers.
With the advent of the New Economic Policy in 1991, the face of urban India is slowly but surely changing. In this era of globalization, privatization and market forces, big corporate retailers are becoming the vogue of the day and are often called the new face of the shining India. The brunt of this rampant corporatism and the big private business mentality is being borne directly by the hawkers.
Hawkers are one of the most important social and economic service providers in India. On the one hand they provide affordable services to the urban population; one the other hand they give the small scale and home based industries a platform for survival as these hawkers are the only selling source for these industries.
Hawkers also play a very important role in the overall urban economy. They are the second larges workforce in the unorganized sector. The total turnover of hawkers in Mumbai is Rupees 120 billion (USD 2.4 billion), in Delhi Rupees 100 billion (USD 2.0 billion) and in Kolkata Rupees 88 billion (USD 1.8 billion). Despite such tremendous contribution towards the economy, the 10- million odd street vendors, or hawkers, in India—a large number of them working and living in major urban centers like Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata—face a serious threat to their livelihood from the corporate retailers. This in turn further endangers the livelihoods of million of others connected from informal sector of the economy.
Retail trade is the single largest component of the services sector in terms of contribution to the gross domestic product (GDP) of India. It amounts to 14 per cent of the service sector. The total number of retail outlets (both food and non-food) was 8.5 million in 1996 and 12 million in 2003.
In the past couple of years, big corporate firms such as Subhiksha, Reliance, Aditya Birla Group, Spencers, Big Apple etc. have entered the Indian retail market. According to estimates for every one job generated by corporate retail companies about 15 existing informal sector jobs will get destroyed. Thus an estimated 40 million of workers including street vendors, hawkers and small shop owners stand to lose their livelihood if the expansion of corporate firms is allowed to go unchecked. The situation is going to be grave if the government allows FDI in retail paving the way for predatory firms like Wal-Mart to directly enter India.
ACORN India has also successfully developed a partnership with Action Aid. Action Aid is funding ACORN India for a three-month (Oct to Dec) research on Hawkers and small retailers in five cities across India.
ACORN India in the process of forming Hawkers’ Union in Mumbai. Under the banner of this Hawkers’ Union, ACORN India recently organized a well-attended meeting in Mumbai.
On 29th September 2008, hundreds of hawkers under the banner of National Hawkers Federation, a national partner of India FDI Watch, held a demonstration in front of the Metro Shop in Kolkata. The shop is yet to become operational.