KATHMANDU, Jan 24: It is midday. At the heart of the city, amid awfully jam-packed traffic, life is as usual on the street. Laxmi Lama, owner of a roadside shop, is busy dealing with customers assembled around her to pick winter clothing.
Suddenly there is an unusual movement at one end of the street which is quickly followed by uproar and screaming. Lama quickly wraps her clothing in a blanket and decamps from the scene, disappearing into the crowd.
She does so to evade the Kathmandu Municipality City (KMC) staffers who carry out such raids almost every day to clear the street of vendors.
The hustle usually lasts for an hour and all vendors, including Lama, return to their roadside spots to hawk their wares until the KMC personnel return for the next round of raid.
Things have been going on like this for years and the street hawkers have gotten used to it.
Simple looking Lama thinks the authorities are disrupting the only source of income that sustains the livelihoods of many families of street vendors. The roadside shop helps her family to make ends meet.
“I don´t understand what´s wrong in doing business on the sidewalk. Why can´t they let us live with some self-respect?” says Laxmi venting her anger.
Laxmi wakes up early in the morning each day.
The moment the clock ticks 6, Laxmi puts aside all her household chores and leaves her house to open her shop on a street of Sundhara.
“If I don´t sell today, my family will suffer tomorrow. For me, each morning begins with lots of joy and a bit of anxiety,” Laxmi said with a grin.
Her main aim is to sell as many clothes as she can. She doesn´t feel embarrassed when people call her street vendor. “It´s my job and I love it. I don´t care about what people say,” says Lama. She says she grew up around a street shop run by her parents.
When asked why she can´t do something else to earn a living, Laxmi´s face grew glum.
“I do not have any alternatives. Neither I have an idea about other business, nor am I in a position to take risks by investing in a new business,” she says.
She makes around Rs 15,000 per month, a sum that she says is not enough to fulfill her family´s needs. “Somehow, I have been able to manage until now,” she says.
KMC has banned hawkers from putting up shops on the sidewalks. The street vendors, nonetheless, continue to run their shops illegally.
Whenever KMC police seize their goods, they simply go to the metropolitan office and pay the minimum fine of Rs 1,500 to get them back.
But Laxmi says the fine does not bother her as much as the way the KMC staff treat the street vendors. “They treat us as if we are nobody,” says Laxmi.
There are roughly 7,000 street vendors who struggle everyday on the street, which they say is getting increasingly difficult due mainly to strict rules that are getting tougher.
“I don´t think anyone is keen to sell things on footpath. It is our misfortune that we do not have other choice,” shares Sushila Karki, 22, a street vendor.
Despite their presence for years, the government has not been able to settle the problem of street vendors permanently.
No wonder, street vendors have emerged as the biggest problem for the KMC.
“We are holding discussions with other stakeholders to find a proper solution,” says Dhanapati Sapkota, chief of implementation department of KMC.
Department of Roads (DoR), Metropolitan Traffic Police (MTP), Vendor Associations and many other government agencies are making joint efforts to solve the problem of street vendors.
“KMC police frequently misbehave with us and the situation is worse for women, who comprise about 55 percent of the total vendors,” says Maya Gurung, Deputy General Secretary at Nepal Self-employed Business Worker´s Association. “If the government doesn´t allow us to conduct our business, women will suffer more than men,” she says.
The vendor association is supported by the CPN-UML, one of the powerful political parties of Nepal.
“To this date CPN-UML is supporting us but I am not sure for how long they will continue their support,” adds Gurung.
In 1993, some of the vendors were shifted to Bhirkutimandap by KMC. But the vendors have mushroomed again owing largely to slack policing by the KMC.
In 2009, a committee led by Keshav Sthapit, a former mayor of Kathmandu, had recommended a raft of measures to solve the problem of street vendors, but non of them were seriously implemented.
Everybody knows that streets are for pedestrians, so street vendors are basically violating other people´s right. Footpaths and streets of Kathmandu are crowded, forcing people to jostle and bump into each other as they negotiate their way. But can we ignore the problem of street vendors who depend on their shops to run the family?
Here´s what some pedestrians had to say when Republica confronted them on the issue.
Govt indifferent toward the problem
Keshav Sthapit, Former commissioner of the Kathmandu Valley Town Development Authority
Why does the problem of street vendors persist?
Street vendors are also part of our country. They have equal rights. But, people generally look down upon them. Footpaths are for everybody, no one can use it as their personal property. Vendors have rights to sell their wares but in a managed way. Our government is not interested in solving the problem. The major cause of the problem is that our political leadership is indifferent toward managing street vendors.
So, what should be done to solve this problem?
It is not very difficult to solve the problem. It can be solved if our government and Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) act seriously. Once, I had submitted a report on possible solutions to this problem. I had proposed alternative places where vendors can run their businesses. I think they can run their business in Naya Bazaar town planning, near Gopi Krishna Hall and Jawlakhel alternatively. This will also solve the problems of pollution and sanitation.
Why do you think the government has not been able to solve the problem?
First, the government considers the problem to be a minor one. The government is busy with its own problems. So is the KMC. There is no specialized body to look into the problem.