Has Modi Govt's 'Revdi' Scheme Served Street Vendors, or ‘Nano-Entrepreneurs’, Well?

The most obvious question on the PM Street Vendors Atmanirbhar Nidhi scheme is, why are there so few takers for the scheme launched in June 2020 to provide subsidised loans in three tranches?

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SVANidhi Mahotsav, launched with much fanfare by the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) in 75 cities from Leh to Nagercoil, concluded last week. As part of the ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’ celebrations, accomplishments of the PM Street Vendors Atmanirbhar Nidhi scheme for street vendors, whom MoHUA has christened “nano-entrepreneurs”, were highlighted.

The din of the macro-level celebrations drowned out ‘nano’ aspects of the implementation story – questions which neither parliament nor its standing committee asked, and implementation experiences from the ground which a subdued civil society has not yet begun voicing. Many media platforms merely reported from the datasheets and statements offered at MoHUA’s pressers.

The most obvious question staring at us on PMSVANidhi’s dedicated website: why are there so few takers for the scheme launched in June 2020 to provide subsidised loans in three tranches to help street vendors impacted by the COVID-19 lockdown?

While the government counted 1.5 crore street vendors who sell vegetables, fruits, groceries, inexpensive clothes and footwear, a private survey put the figure at 4 crores. MoHUA set a target of only 50.47 lakh. About 42.31 lakh first loan applications were found eligible and only 30.52 lakh street vendors actually received the loan of Rs 10,000.

Only those who fully repay the first loan become eligible for the second loan of Rs 20,000. According to MoHUA’s dashboard, about 28% of first loan applicants were found eligible for the second loan. Less than 12% who received the first loan got the second loan. In Rajasthan, less than 3% of women street vendors got a second loan, and less than 4% in West Bengal. Only 1,027 applications were found eligible for the third loan of Rs 50,000, and less than 50% of them actually received it.

Also read: ‘Revdi Culture’ or Govt’s Basic Responsibility? What Prioritising Welfare Is Really About

While it is too early to comment on the third loan figures, the extremely low uptake of the second loan is cause for concern. Implementation data supplied to this author under the RTI Act pegs bad loans – which MoHUA itself labels as ‘non-performing assets’ (NPAs) – at 15.88%. So NPAs cannot be the primary cause of poor demand. Is the state of the local economy where street vendors operate to blame, or are loan procedures too cumbersome? Anecdotal evidence indicates that the emphasis on digital transactions, though many street vendors don’t own a mobile phone, the insistence on domicile certificates by lending institutions from applicants who are essentially migrants, and the cumbersome sanction process, are all dampeners.

PM SVANidhi implementation data supplied under the RTI Act for Rs 60 reveals more about the geographical, demographic and community-wise coverage than what MoHUA does through its expensively designed implementation dashboard. For example, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh cornered the lion’s share, accounting for more than 43% of the first loan and 38.76% of the second loan beneficiaries. The five southern states and Puducherry cornered 28.11% of the first loan but 38.87% of the second loan disbursed. The parliamentary committee which probed PM SVANidhi’s implementation in 2021 did not quiz the ministry about this lopsided geographical coverage.

More than 51% of the first and second loan beneficiaries are OBCs. Even in tribal-dominated Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, OBCs accounted for 57.42% and 45.44%, while Scheduled Tribes accounted for 3.57% and 8% only. Is this trend of OBC domination an unintentional outcome of the implementation process, or is it indicative of the NDA’s sustained campaign to court this segment of the electorate?

RTI implementation data also shows that only 0.01% of the beneficiaries belong to minority communities. Is the loan demand very low in this section, or have applicants not identified themselves as such, given the current atmosphere of minority-bashing? These are but a few questions requiring answers beyond MoHUA’s publicly disseminated data.

What exactly did we celebrate in the Mahotsav, is the question taxpayers ought to ask because they foot the bill for the loans, the 7% interest subsidy that is paid back to the beneficiary and of course the cost of organising the SVANidhi Mahotsav.

Venkatesh Nayak is director, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, New Delhi. Views are personal.