Kathmandu’s street vendors find no respite despite loosening of lockdownThousands of street vendors in the Kathmandu Valley have lost their livelihoods to the Covid-19 lockdown.
Indrachowk, Kathmandu’s most crowded and noisiest shopping area that had remained eerily silent for nearly two months due to the prohibitory orders since April 29, came to life on Tuesday after the easing of various restrictions. The prohibitory orders in the three districts of the Kathmandu Valley were loosened after 52 days amid slowing down of Covid-19 cases.
From early morning, the Indrachowk crossroads was full of street vendors—over two dozen of them selling food, vegetables, clothes, kitchen utensils and other household items—and shoppers and joggers.
Laxmi Thapa, 43, and her nine-year-old son Dilip were shouting at the passing pedestrians to buy their wares. The mother and son sell socks and ladies’ undergarments.
She said her husband was at home preparing the morning meal.
Then suddenly a police siren screamed at a distance and the vendors ran helter skelter clutching their wares. When the white truck full of municipal police finally arrived at the scene, the crossroads was already clear of street vendors as most of them fled to the back alleys.
“Today was the first day my son and I came here for business. But the City police chased us,” said Thapa, who is also a mother of two daughters aged 13 and 21. She said she had thought they would be able to start street vending with the easing of restrictions, but she was wrong.
According to the City Police Chief Dhanapati Sapkota, on Tuesday they seized goods of half a dozen street vendors from the New Road and Indrachowk area because street vending is still restricted. “From Wednesday onwards we will be stricter against illegal street vending,” said Sapkota. He said the City Police will patrol the streets from 7am to 7pm every day.
Meanwhile, Thapa said her family has lost all their savings after the whole family came down with Covid-19 in the first week of April. “After three weeks we recovered. Life is getting more and more difficult so I came here today hoping to earn some money but they are chasing us as if we are criminals,” said Thapa, whose family came to Kathmandu after the 2015 earthquake flattened their house in Sindhupalchowk.
“We didn’t have much land back in the village. We became homeless after the earthquake, which also killed our livestock. After that we left the village and have been selling clothes on the streets,” said Thapa.
Like Thapa, hundreds of street vendors have lost their means of livelihood to the Covid-19 restrictions.
Although the administrations of the three districts of the Kathmandu Valley on Sunday decided to ease many of the lockdown restrictions allowing most shops to reopen albeit only for a few hours daily and vehicles to operate on the basis of odd-even number rule, they have continued the ban on roadside vending.
“Street vendors are among those most affected by the lockdown, because they need to work every day for survival and most of them have already run out of their savings,” said Raj Kumar Shrestha, deputy general secretary at Nepal Street Vendors’ Trade Union, which has 10,000 members.
He said the Union is planning to visit the District Administration Office and the Kathmandu Metropolitan City this week asking them to lift the ban on street vending.
“It seems like the government is only concerned about the well-being of big businesses and rich people and ignores the poor,” complained Shrestha.
The union estimates there are around 30,000 street vendors in the Valley.
When the Post contacted the chief district officer of Kathmandu Kali Prasad Parajuli and asked about the concerns of the street vendors, he said his office will look into this issue again. “We thought street vendors would cause crowding in the street which is not good in the time of the pandemic, but we will discuss the issue further and see what can be done,” said Parajuli.
The city authorities have long regarded street vendors as a nuisance. Over a decade there have been many recommendations and promises authorities have made to relocate the street vendors, but that has not been successful yet.
A decade ago, the government had formed a committee to relocate the street vendors from the Khula Manch, Tinkune, Kalanki and Balaju areas. The committee’s recommendations were not implemented and street vendors continued to ply their businesses wherever they found convenient, preferably at places that saw high footfall.
Then in 2014, Bamdev Gautam, the home minister at the time, issued an order to evict all street vendors, but the latter refused to give in.
Kathmandu Mayor Bidya Sundar Shakya after his election in 2017 had promised to solve the problem of street vending with better relocation options, but he has done nothing towards this end.
“We have visited the mayor's office on numerous occasions with memoranda, but he does not listen to us,” said union secretary Shrestha. “He ignores us because we are poor and not city residents and have no voting rights. This is a sick mentality,” said Shrestha.