Riding the Gig Wave: Assam's Entrepreneurs Embrace the New Economy

Priyanka Chakrabarty

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Guwahati: If the streets of Guwahati are bustling, it’s in part at least, fuelled by the rise of the gig economy in the Northeast, particularly Assam.

Over the past five years, entrepreneurs in Assam have picked up the thread and begun to invest in the rising service industry. Their message is simple: find out what services people want, work out the economics, invest and finally, deliver with quality service.
Sumit Das, the brains behind Baayu, a bike riding service in Assam, echoes the sentiments of many in the region, citing service quality as a key concern within this burgeoning industry. "One of the major challenges in the bike riding industry is that in the gig economy, the service quality is not very good," says Das.

Das who started in 2020, had a learning curve provided by QuickGhy that started in 2017.

QuickGhy, spearheaded by Dhistri Medhi and his brother, embarked on a journey to digitalize home services. Like elsewhere in Indian cities where UrbanCompany made a mark, QuickGhy’s vision was also simple: to provide Guwahatians with a one-stop solution for all their household needs.

"It was in 2017 that my brother thought of digitalizing the home services system for Guwahatians when he saw my mother being unable to find a plumber on time," shares Medhi. "We started by understanding the service-providing sector of Guwahati. Talking to some neighbours and friends we felt that if we could bring these blue-collared workers (plumber, electrician, beautician, etc.) under one platform it would be a handy solution to many day-to-day problems."

But what exactly is the gig economy? It's a question on many lips as Assam's entrepreneurial spirit embraces this new wave of employment. Simply put, it's a model where independent contractors and freelancers are hired on a temporary basis, offering flexibility to both workers and employers. And it's not just about ride-hailing and food delivery; it's about redefining how we work and earn.

In Assam, this shift is welcomed with open arms, as the region's unique landscape presents endless opportunities for gig entrepreneurs. From the bustling streets of Guwahati to the serene countryside, gig workers are carving their niche in the economy, one ride, one service at a time.

Yet, challenges loom on the horizon. Pricing to start with could be a big denominator. Several Zomato customers told Business North East that though they were happy with the services, food prices are high on such apps.

Secondly, the gig economy promises freedom and flexibility, but it also raises questions about worker protections and social security. One can visualize the Uber moto driver in the rains and complaining about better income. Or a Swiggy delivery man driving hard in the mid-summer sun to deliver the biryani on time.

Baayu is overcome some of these issues. “The drivers pay Baayu a fixed rent per day or week, but rest of the money goes to them,” says Das.

With the recent introduction of the Code on Social Security, 2020, there's hope for better safeguards for gig workers. But the road ahead may still be uncertain.

In August 2023, more than 28.99 crore unorganized workers registered on the e-Shram portal. It would augur well if data of gig workers is also separately captured on the same portal.

Amidst these uncertainties, collaborations like the one between the Assam State Transport Corporation (ASTC) and PhonePe offer a glimpse into the future.

Digital payment solutions are paving the way for smoother transactions, driving the gig economy forward. As the sun sets over the Brahmaputra, Assam's gig entrepreneurs gear up for another day of hustle and innovation. From Baayu riders navigating the city's streets to QuickGhy technicians fixing household woes, they're the unsung heroes of Assam's new economy. Similar experiments are happening in rest of the northeastern states, but with internet connectivity not optimum in many states, the self-sustaining critical mass is yet to be attained.

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Priyanka Chakrabarty