Sunday, November 22, 2009

are we sensitive to other's needs?

I have lived near a vegetable market for a good number of years. The scene at the market is complete chaos. Early in the morning truck loads of vegetables come in and the wholesalers buy the entire stocks and wait for the small sellers to buy the stuff. When there is a good supply of the vegetables, a basket of tomatoes weighing 10 kgs is bought by the retail sellers for about Rs.50/- ($1)

Just after 3 hours the entire stocks with the wholesalers were exhausted. When I wanted to buy one kg of tomatoes I was shocked to find the price being quoted Rs.15/- per kg ($0.30). I was very angry that these retailers are ripping us of our hard earned money. Well, there was no option but to buy it at that price as there was none willing to sell at a lesser price. This is the situation faced by each and every consumer at the market place at some point of time in his life. I always felt cheated at the way the retailers were fleecing my hard earned money. The situation is no different in the hypermarkets where the vegetables are refrigerated in cold storage and sold.

I was a regular to the market for many years and I went to one of the retailers and became friendly with him over a period of time. After years of visit to this retailer, I found him looking dejected, sad and not selling anything on that particular day. Slowly, I started a conversation with an intention to know the reasons for his sadness. He opened up and said that his wife was in hospital with a serious health problem and did not have the money to pay her bills.

I pondered over his situation and wondered how a person making Rs.10/- profit on tomatos costing Rs.5/- per kg was passing through this kind of a situation. In all my earlier visits I was calculating the profits he was making( He used to sell about 100 kg tomatos a day or his profit was around Rs.1000/- a day, which is double the pay that I was drawing). Then, I came to know that every morning he borrowed a capital of Rs.1000/- from a money lender at an interest of 10% per day or about Rs.100/- for every 1000/- borrowed and the interest was deducted before giving the loan. In effect, he would take Rs.900/- in the morning and return back Rs.1000/- in the evening. The retailer also told me that for every 10kgs procured he lost 3kgs as damaged stuff. He also had to pay daily rent for selling his wares and ultimately at the end of the day he would be left with Rs.100/- as the net profit.

He said that the banks never give them any loans as they have got nothing to show as a collateral security. I just wondered how can a person live a decent life with a paltry Rs.100/- per day. With this kind of money he was not in a position to take a health insurance policy for him leave alone his family members. How far is it correct to charge an interest of 300% per month from these hapless vegetable vendors? There are atleast 70 such vendors in the market and two or three financers fleecing them. What is the role of the Government to help these people? How sensitive are we to the needs of these small time vendors?

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