Kathmandu Metropolitan City doesn’t have any plans yet for street vendorsWhile Lalitpur Metropolitan City authorities have adopted a much gentler way to manage street vendors, their counterparts in Kathmandu are still resorting to brute force.
A video of Kathmandu Metropolitan City police confiscating a vegetable cart of a woman has prompted fury over social media, where the city authority has been criticised for robbing livelihoods of street vendors.
This incident happened at Sukedhara at 3pm on Friday and the woman seen in the video pleading with the city police not to take away her cart has been identified as Manju Kunwar.
“Please leave it, let the poor live off their work,” a person is overheard in the video.
Meanwhile, Kunwar is seen complaining with the bystanders that her empty cart was seized from in front of the house where she lives with her teenage son.
“I was not selling anything here,” she is heard pleading in the video.
Touched by Kunwar’s plight, which was uploaded on social media platforms, many poured their anger towards Kathmandu Metropolitan City for harassing the daily wage workers.
“Those who are corrupt can fill their stomach but what will the daily wage earner eat,” a person wrote, sharing the video on his facebook wall.
This was not the one-off incident of street vendors being chased away and harassed by the authorities. The city police has intensified its crackdown on street vendors—once again—in the name of clearing the city’s roads and pavements.
Dhanapati Sapkota, head of the municipal police, said in the past few weeks the city has confiscated dozens of carts and bicycles for selling fruits, vegetables and other goods on roads and pavements.
“Every day we have been nabbing nearly three dozen carts and bicycles. It is illegal to sell goods on non-designated spots and we do not let anyone scot-free,” said Sapkota.
While Sapkota justifies the action of the city police in the name of rules and regulations, he glosses over the plight and concern of street vendors who have long been urging the city authority to find a place for them where they could ply their trade.
Kathmandu Mayor Bidya Sundar Shakya had mentioned in his election manifesto in 2017, that managing the city’s street vendors was one of his priorities. Four years into his office as a mayor, and he has yet to deliver on his promise.
“There hasn’t been any homework from the city authority to address the concerns of street vendors,” said Rajkumar Shrestha, secretary general of Nepal Street Vendors’ Trade Union.
Around 9,000 street vendors are associated with the union.
According to Shrestha, there are around 30,000 street vendors in Kathmandu Valley.
“Many people lost their jobs due to the Covid-19 pandemic and they are now supporting their families as street vendors. The way the city authority is treating street vendors is appalling,” said Shrestha.
While the Kathmandu Metropolitan City has been relying on force to get rid of street vendors, the neighbouring Lalitpur Metropolitan City has adopted a much gentler approach when it comes to dealing with street vendors.
Kunwar, the woman whose cart was seized by the city police, had bought the cart for Rs 9,000, the money which she borrowed from her friend.
“The city police took my empty cart that was just parked in an open space near my room. They admonished me when I tried to stop them. Now I don’t know how I am going to pay my room rent and feed my son without the cart,” Kunwar said.
Shrestha, the secretary general of Nepal Street Vendors’ Trade Union, said that the city authority was indifferent towards the problem of the street vendors.
“Many times we have held meetings with Mayor Shakya about the issue, but he has not taken any serious steps towards addressing the concerns of street vendors,” he said.
Shrestha said while other places outside Kathmandu Valley like Mahendranagar Municipality has spent Rs200 million to address the concerns of street vendors, it was a shame that the Capital city is not doing anything in this regard.
“Kathmandu Metropolitan City should have been a role model on this issue,'' said shrestha.
Basanta Acharya, chief of the law division at the city office, said it was difficult to manage the street vendors because of their sheer number. “People from across the country are living as street vendors in Kathmandu. It’s not easy to manage them. There should be an in-depth study and discussion on the issue to address this issue,” he said.
Saroj Basnet, vice-chairperson of the Urban Planning Commission, said he will raise the concerns of street vendors before the mayor and other officials.
“The city alone can’t solve the problem, though. It also needs help from the federal government,” he said.
The issue of street vendors is not a new one. It goes back to over a decade. There have been many promises from government authorities to address the issue over the years, but they never delivered on them.
Eleven years ago, a government committee had recommended relocating the street vendors to Khulamanch, 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.
“Those who sell goods on footpaths and street vendors care to the people with lower income, because not everyone can afford the items sold in malls and supermarkets,” Shrestha said. “The way the city authority is treating the street vendors shows that it does not care about the poor.”