Street vendors decry Kathmandu city office crackdown on their businessesCity office has mobilised its police to shut down street and pushcart vendors considering them possible coronavirus spreaders.
Hari Ram Paudel has been a street vendor for the past five years. He sells children and women’s clothes on the roadside at Sundhara.
The past six months have been tough for the 47-year-old, as the coronavirus pandemic caused him to close his business.
During the four-month long lockdown, Paudel had no means of livelihood but he somehow managed to scrape by. So when the lockdown was lifted in July, he collected his merchandise and resumed his trade. But he had to pack it in within a couple of weeks, as Kathmandu Valley was placed under prohibitory orders due to the surge in coronavirus infections.
The prohibitory orders, in place since August 20, were eased earlier this week. Different shops and businesses were allowed to open on different days of the week and on certain hours of the day.
Paudel once again set up his roadside shop. He had to; he has a family to look after. But once again he was forced to close his shop. This time it was the Kathmandu Metropolitan City.
Just days after the three district administrations of Kathmandu Valley relaxed the Covid-19 curbs on businesses and transport service, the city police started swooping down on street vendors and seizing their goods.
“We have nothing to eat. How are we supposed to survive?” Paudel said.
After months of lockdown and restrictions, street vendors like Paudel were hoping to earn some money so that they could at least celebrate this year’s Dashain, which is just a month away.
The month preceding the Dashain festival is the time when most businesses in Nepal make good sales and roadside businesses like that of Paudel’s are no exception.
“What the city is doing to us is just cruel. The district administration office says that we can open our shops, but the city office is confiscating our goods,” Paudel said.
Two days after the prohibitory orders were relaxed in the Valley, Kathmandu Deputy Mayor Hari Prabha Khadgi and some ward representatives of the city had met Kathmandu Chief District Officer Janakraj Dhakal seeking a review on the decision to allow street and pushcart vendors to operate.
The Kathmandu District Administration Office has not yet issued any notice concerning its review on the relaxation of prohibitory orders. But meanwhile, the city office has been launching a crackdown on street vendors.
According to Street Vendors’ Trade Union, there are more than 10,000 street vendors in Kathmandu Valley. The Covid-19 pandemic has severely affected their livelihood. They feel persecuted by the city office for considering them coronavirus spreaders and shutting down their businesses ahead of the festival season.
“The city mayor stays at a five star hotel with lavish facilities because he got infected with the virus, and here we are being hounded for trying to support our families through honest toil,” said Rita Banjara, 43, who and other street vendors were chased away by the city police on Tuesday. “If we do not open our shops, we can’t even buy Cetamol when we get sick.”
Dhanapati Sapkota, chief of the Implementation Division at the city office, says they are only enforcing the city’s regulations, as the annual municipal assembly meeting has already banned street vendors.
“There is a great risk of Covid-19 transmission from street vendors and we have been getting complaints from locals that they cause crowds on streets,” said Sapkota.
A team of 40 city police personnel has been deployed in different parts of the city like Sundhara, Ason, Indra Chowk, New Baneshwor, Koteshwor, Gaushala and Balaju to enforce the regulation.
Sapkota said the city has confiscated goods worth Rs 2.7 million which have been kept at a warehouse in Teku.
Nil Kaji Shakya, the ward chairman of Kathmandu-25, says street vendors are still operating despite the mobilisation of city police.
“The street vendors are claiming that the district office has allowed them to operate their businesses. They don’t pay taxes and they disregard the rule of law,” he said.
Street vendors, meanwhile, say that they are not hawking goods on roadsides out of choice and that the authorities should stop insulting them for not being able to rent a shop space or pay taxes.
“We are ready to pay taxes, but the city must come up with a modality to allow us to run our business,” said Rajkumar Shrestha, secretary general of Nepal Street Vendors’ Trade Union. “Street vendors are all over the world. The Kathmandu Metropolitan City can’t just place a wholesale blame on us and run away from its responsibility.”
He said the city was snatching the livelihood of hundreds of people in the name of Covid-19 pandemic.
The squabble between Kathmandu’s street vendors and the authorities goes back to over a decade. Over the years there have also been many recommendations and promises made by the authorities to manage the city’s street vendors. None of them were implemented.
Ten years ago, a government committee had recommended relocating street vendors in Kullamanch, Tinkune, Kalanki and Balaju. The recommendation did not come to pass, and the street vendors continued to ply their businesses wherever they found convenient, preferably at places that saw high footfall.
Then in 2014, Bam Dev Gautam, the home minister at the time, issued an order to evict all street vendors, but the latter refused to give in.
During the local level election of 2017, Mayor Bidya Sundar Shakya had listed the management of street vendors on his priority list, but he has not taken any steps towards that end.
“We have time and again requested the authorities concerned to arrange a proper space for us to conduct our business if they don’t want us on roadsides, but to no avail,” said Shrestha.
Street vendors see the current move of the city as a preferential treatment towards those shops and businesses that serve the middle class and the rich.
“Because we cater to those people who cannot go to malls and supermarkets, the city office thinks that we are spreading the virus,” said Paudel, the street vendor from Sundhara, “But we are also equally afraid. We too have children and families and we don’t want them to get sick.”