For vendors at Delhi’s traffic signals, the challenge is to sell their wares before the light turns green

Their livelihood is directed by the changing of traffic lights from green to amber to red. For them the red light means business, amber to quickly move away to the other side before it turns green .These traffic signal vendors negotiate the busy crossings for business in a matter of seconds.

The moment the red light stops the traffic in a particular direction, a number of vendors descend from the nearby pavements with their wares that varies seasonally — ranging from dusters, wipers, tissue papers, battery chargers, books, steering covers, window screens to flowers, magazines and toys. These skilled salesmen and women have only a few minutes, perhaps seconds, to coax the commuters into buying their goods before the traffic light turns green.

“Sometimes simply waving your goods is enough, sometimes a smile works but we have to use our persuasive skills in a matter of seconds to influence commuters to buy our goods,” says Manish who hails from Bihar and sells dusters and battery chargers at one of the crossings in South Delhi.

Santosh Kumar sells books at one crossing. He says if he is able to sell three to four books, he can sometimes earn Rs. 200 to 300. The books are delivered to him by the agents. He says that he gets a book costing Rs. 400 at Rs. 150 or Rs. 200; he tries to sell the same at Rs. 300 or less but this varies from book to book, he hastens to add. The book lover is happy that he got it cheaper by Rs. 100 than the market price and Santosh is able to pocket a handsome amount per book.

Jaisa grahak vaisa daam,” says Mohammed Aftab, who sells toy planes and cars at another crossing. “Some time for a toy I make a profit of just two rupees, at another time it is more than Rs. 10. It depends on the commuter, situation and time. If a child is ziddi (insistent), obviously we are able to make more money,” he says with a twinkle in his eyes.

Rahul, who once used to do business at the crossing, today supply goods to the vendors from the wholesale market. Many vendors source their wares from these agents; some, however, prefer to buy from wholesale markets to have a bigger profit margin.

Morning and evenings are the busiest business hours. The vendors have a great sense of business and they keep on changing their outdated wares. One can find them selling mobile chargers or pen drives at many crossings these days. The nature of their wares also varies from posh to semi posh areas and the time of the day.

Surinder, another traffic signal vendor, feels bad that while they struggle for over 12 hours every day to make a living, the beggars are able to earn much more in a much shorter span of time. He says that the traffic police usually do not object to the vending business except for asking them to keep away when vehicles with lal batti (red beacon) are passing by.

A traffic police personnel said, “What can we do other than chiding them. There is no rule to stop them.”

While most of the commuters dislike the pestering vendors, one said: “However, if I can get what I want without going to the market and at the right price as long as no one is forcing anything on me, it is okay with me.”

Call them encroachers or any other name, but for these traffic signal vendors red light crossings are the markets where they can sell goods without paying any rent or do they have to pay a hafta (informal tax) to the powers that be? None admits doing that though.

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