Street vendors censure city's plan to auction off goods seized from themNepal Street Vendors Trade Union demands alternative space to run their ‘business’
It’s 9 am and Laxmi Tamang’s sellable items are laid on the ladder of the overhead bridge that links Asan and Ganesh Mandir in Ranipokhari. She stressfully looks at the Bir Hospital roadside if the municipal police are on the way to confiscate her goods.
Just above Tamang’s shop, Sushila Bhandari, 48, has kept pillow covers and bedsheets on the floor. She is calling out customers, offering two pieces of bedsheet for only Rs 350. More than the customers, however, her gaze from the top of the bridge is fixed in the Jamal area for city cops.
These daytime footpath vendors like Tamang, 33, and Bhandari, including dozens of others, have been the most worried traders in the informal sector for the past six months as the Kathmandu Metropolitan City office has not returned the items confiscated from them, robbing them of their livelihood. Recently, the metropolis announced to auction off the collected goods worth around Rs1.5 million.
“In the past six months, the metropolis has seized my items three times and has not returned them,” said Tamang. She has been selling goods on the bridge for the past four years. Tamang said the metropolis has taken away her goods worth Rs 45,000. She sells brushes, shoe polish, purses, and nail cutters, among other petty items. Her investment is around Rs15,000.
“The corrupt metropolis is planning to make money selling poor people’s goods confiscated from the road,” said Tamang, who has to look after four members of her family who live in a rented room in Machhapokhari. Her husband has a heart problem. She has to look after her school going daughter and father-in-law. The family shifted to Kathmandu from Nuwakot-3 after the 2015 earthquake demolished their house.
“We don't have much property back in the village. This was the only thing we could do. If the metropolis nabs goods next time, I don’t even have the money to buy items for sale,” said Tamang, who needs to pay Rs2,000 monthy for her 11-year-old daughter’s school fees.
Kumar Sapkota, chairperson of the Nepal Street Vendors Trade Union, openly criticises the municipal action, calling it ‘shameful’. “The metropolis is not treating us like humans, as most of us are from outside the Valley,” said Sapkota, who has been selling jeans items at Ratnapark after 7pm for over a decade. The metropolis does not deploy its city police on the road citing the closure of its office at that time.
“If metropolis feels proud of earning Rs 1.5 million selling poor people’s items, this is a great misfortune, and we have grave concern over this issue.”
The union’s data show there are more than 10,000 street vendors in Kathmandu Valley. Many of the vendors do their business after 7pm on the footpaths of Ratnapark, Sundhara, Nepal Airlines, Kalanki, New Baneshwor, Koteshwor, New Bus Park, Chabahil, Gaushala and other places. They say their business is minimal because people’s mobility decreases after 7pm.
Dhanapati Sapkota, chief of the city police, seems to have no care for the vendors’ woes. He says he won’t spare anyone who does illegal business on the footpath. “I am not going to be convinced by any emotional blackmailing,” said Sapkota. “If we release their goods by charging a certain fine, the goods again come to the street and the problem never gets solved,” said Sapkota. He stressed that it’s illegal to sell goods on the roadside or footpath.
Asked why the metropolis was allowing footpath business after 7 pm if it’s illegal to do business on the streets, he said it’s due to a shortage of employees. “We have limited resources—the city police team goes home after their 7am-7pm duty. Once we have an adequate number of staff, we won’t let them operate even in the evening time,” Sapkota clarified.
The Kathmandu metropolis currently has 192 personnel in its police department to watch over all the 32 wards.
The problem of street vendors in the Capital is not new. For over two decades, the metropolis has failed to manage street vendors. Every year, the city authority books a large number of vendors doing business illegally on footpaths or road pavements. According to a report from last year, more than 20,000 vendors were booked in a decade.
A decade ago, a committee formed by the government had recommended relocating vendors to Khulamanch, Tinkune ground, Kalanki and Balaju, but it could do nothing. In 2014, then-home minister Bam Dev Gautam ordered evicting all vendors from the streets of Kathmandu but after their protest, the metropolis and the government could do nothing and they returned to the streets.
Soon after his election in May 2017, Mayor Bidya Sundar Shakya had accorded top priority to the management of street vendors but he has failed to solve their problems either.
“If the metropolis or government find us a proper location, we are even ready to pay tax. Otherwise, we should get job opportunities so that we don’t have to come to the streets,” said union chairperson Sapkota. “But the metropolis is indifferent to our problems.”
National Consumer Forum President Prem Raj Maharjan argues that if the government makes the night market vibrant, street vendors won’t have problems running their business. “Look at developed countries. They too have street vendors but they are well managed,” said Maharjan