Laxmi Gautam of Kavrepalanchok had been making a living for herself and the family as a street vendor.
Before the Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC)'s crackdown on street sellers, she would sell items like tobacco products, chocolates, biscuits, bottled water on the street in front of Bir Hospital.
Now, she wonders how to sustain livelihoods as the KMC has come hard on street traders like her as part of its plan to ban street vending in the city. “I am struggling to make two meals a day for the family and pay education bills for my children. Designating a specific location and fixing time for street vending is a good option,” she said.
Nirmala Shrestha of Sindhupalchok is also finding it difficult to make a living for her five-member family as she is now jobless since two months after the metropolis banned her from running her sidewalk business. Her spouse, who worked at the job of constructing houses, is jobless for the past one year, adding to their woes.
Instead of finding alternatives for us to sustain our livelihoods, the metropolis mistreated us and snatched our goods, she complained. “They did not let us work for a living. They chased us away. They snatched my goods five times. I bought goods for Rs 8,000 to Rs 10,000. But the metropolis seized them. We are falling on hard for making a living,” she protested.
Sabitri Baruwal of Dolakha shared the similar problem created as a result of the metropolis coming hard on street vendors. “The metropolis snatched our goods, and never returned. We cannot do a big business. We want the metropolis to designate the location and fix time for street vending. Roads have become wide but our breads have been snatched,” complained Baruwal, who would sell goods on a street at Bhotahiti.
Gautam, Shrestha and Baruwal are just in point. Many street vendors have shared the similar problems they are facing after the metropolis cracked down on street sellers.
Lately, the issue of the management of street vendors in the KMC has become much complicated. Scenes of KMC police chasing away and snatching goods from street vendors have flooded the social media. People are divided over the metropolis taking action against street vendors.
Some have praised the KMC efforts of widening the roads and footpaths for pedestrians and vehicles by evicting street vendors while others are against its hardline on them. Those who are in favour of street vendors opined that humanity and rice come first. Before taking away their breads, the KMC should find alternatives for street vendors, they opined.
Representatives of the metropolis are not unaware about the matter though.
Touched by their pain, the KMC is in favour of seeking any alternative to the street vendors, they said. The issue of street vendors should be taken on humanitarian grounds, said Ramji Bhandari, the ward chair of the KMC-9. “We too must think about this on a humanitarian ground. We are thinking about providing an alternative to them. We are thinking in favour of them,” he said.
But he does not think that all of the street vendors are poor. Some of them are just running their sidewalk business as a part-time job, he claimed. Those who have other income sources are found to be involving in this business, said Ram Kumar KC, the ward chair of the KMC-10. “It is not that the KMC or street vendors are always right. But up to four members of a family are found to be running street vending. They have worked at other jobs as well. Well-off people are also found to be involved in it,” he said.
The KMC should follow the practice adopted by other countries in the world about the management of street vendors, he viewed.
Although the KMC’s plan to manage street vendors was five-year-old, it could not implement due to COVID-19, he said, adding that they would not return snatched goods to street vendors as part of their strategy to discourage them. The KMC is coming up with a plan to provide the displaced street vendors training on alternative businesses and bringing them under the purview of tax, he said.
The issue of managing workers and business in the informal sector is not the sole responsibility of the metropolis however. According to government data, the informal sector shares around half of Nepal’s economy, and the total number of workers in the sector is around 62 percent.
From retail shops to street vendors or cart-puller-bicycle business, to carpenter, farmers, middlepersons who take agricultural products to the market, real estate brokers, porters, drivers and conductors of vehicles, all these jobs fall within the scope of the informal sector.
According to a report on the impacts of COVID-19 in the informal sector published by the National Planning Commission, although the informal sector has occupied a big and important part of the country’s economy, the sector has remained unorganised and neglected due to a lack of state regulation. The pandemic has had its severe impacts on workers in the informal sector, who went through hard times to sustain their livelihoods during the virus, the report concluded.
According to a report prepared by the Centre for Informal Economy in collaboration with the Hope for Change Nepal, many street vendors are struggling to make a living for themselves and their families after the metropolis started cracking down on them.
Following this, they have resorted to continue their sidewalk business in hiding from the KMC, it says. “As a result of their eviction from the street vending, a whopping 88 percent of them have taken loans to reduce their economic burden and support the families. Sixty percent have continued the business in hiding from the metropolis, and a few have shifted their business elsewhere.”
Most of them are doing sidewalk business to run their household, and the business is their main income source, says the report. Over 67 percent of the respondents said they made the business as their main income source, and 31 percent took it as a part-time job. The respondents numbered 130 between the 35-59 age group were from 83 local levels of 39 districts across the country. On the matter, comments were taken from street vendors, consumers, local people, the metropolis police, KMC ward chairs and lawmakers of Bagmati Province through various mediums.
The metropolis has not returned goods worth from Rs 21,000 to Rs 100,000 to three percent of street vendors, and goods worth from Rs 4,000 to Rs 20,000 to over nine percent. Ninety-five percent street vendors have yet to register their business, and over 56 percent were unaware about the registration process.
The metropolis not returning the snatched goods has added extra economic burden on the street vendors, says the report.