Heat affects street vendors differently, depending on their business and work conditions. Pic credit: Gopal MS, Mumbai Paused
Rising temperatures have engulfed the country. On April 28th, Mumbai
recorded the highest daily temperature at 37 degrees Celsius, creating unbearable circumstances for those uniquely vulnerable to the heat, particularly informal workers. The lack of a comprehensive Heat Action Plan (HAP) in the city is increasing the effects of the heatwave on the health of those directly exposed to the sun for long hours.
To be able to conduct their businesses, street vendors in Mumbai adapt to these conditions and find unique ways to cope with the heat. Citizen Matters spoke to different vendors to understand their methods.
Deepak and Smita run their vegetable cart/tempo together in Goregaon East. To protect themselves from the scorching heat, they sit under a large umbrella which also protects their vegetables. In the summers, Deepak usually wears only an under vest when he is outdoors. Additionally, drinking cold beverages like aam panna and buttermilk helps them cool down. They also take turns going home for short naps when they’re exhausted. “Vegetables get more expensive in the summers and also go bad sooner, so we have to buy them in lesser quantities. This does reduce our profit, but also generates less waste,” said Deepak. They make Rs 1500-2000 on average everyday in the summers, as opposed to Rs 2500-3000 in winter time. They periodically mist their vegetables to keep them fresh for longer, but 2-3kgs of vegetables end up being unfit for sale towards the end. “We either give them away to someone in need, or use them at home,” Deepak added. Pic credit: Radha Puranik
Fruit perishes faster than vegetables. Anil Shaw, owner of this fruit cart, usually ends up throwing away 40% of what he buys, while still making a marginal profit. The umbrella is a common tactic to beat the heat, but interestingly, Anil’s cart moves with the shadow of the tree that he sits under. Summers aren’t the best for business, he says, but the month of Ramzan has brought in a larger footfall. Monsoons, he says, are the most unprofitable, as a lot of fruits are out of season, and they go bad within a day or two. Pic credit: Radha Puranik
Sanjay, a cobbler, sits under a steel sheet of a public toilet for shade. When asked what he does to keep cool during this heatwave, he says, “We just wait for the breeze”. Not a lot of customers visit him in the summers, but business increases exponentially in the monsoons – by 50-60% – as more shoes break. He also repairs umbrellas. This work earns him Rs 300-400 in a day on average. Pic credit: Radha Puranik
Deepak Tembe sells miscellaneous items on Aarey Road. He complained about not having enough shade here. He comes early in the morning to find a spot under this tree to set up shop, otherwise he has to sit in the sun. Pic credit: Radha Puranik
Read more: Explainer: What you should do when you come across tree cutting in Mumbai
Many shops are seen with bedsheets or blue tarp in the front to provide shade. Pic credit: Radha Puranik
Many street vendors create makeshift shades like this to protect themselves. A socks vendor uses this hoarding but it barely protects him from the sun. With no room for a bigger hoarding, there is no alternative. Pic credit: Radha Puranik
For some like Shakuntala Jangam, seasons don’t dictate business, but festivals do. She makes Rs 1000-1500 on regular days, and Rs 5000-6000 on festival days like Ganesh Chaturthi, Diwali and Dussehra. 50% of her flowers need to be thrown out in two days if they are not sold. Her only respite from the heat is the shade of trees, which is not guaranteed. She also drinks cold water from a Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) water station nearby to keep cool. Pic credit: Radha Puranik
Water stations, or panpois as they’re called, provide water for free to pedestrians, shopkeepers and vendors nearby. This particular one near Goregaon West Subway, put here by an area Corporator, was manned by a worker, who made sure to ask every passerby to drink water, emphasising that it was free. “We need more panpois like this,” said a vegetable seller nearby. Pic credit: Radha Puranik
Some businesses fare much better in the summers. Shamika Kulkarni started a buttermilk kiosk after losing her job recently. She makes Rs 500 in 5 hours and her daily expenditure on the business is about Rs 150. There is no wastage at the end of the day. Pic credit: Radha Puranik
According to Sheela Biradar, who runs a coconut stand, coconut water sales rise by 40-50% for her in the summers. They sell for Rs 50 each, making it a lucrative business during this time. Pic credit: Radha Puranik
A pattern among most vendors is the need to change their place of business frequently. Some do so to follow the shadows of trees, some are at the risk of eviction by civic authorities. The precarious nature of their work, coupled with the heatwave, are difficult circumstances and often cost them their regular customers. But monsoon is underway, and while for some vendors this means more havoc, for some, it is a time of profit.