Street vendors caught between compulsion, government action

- POST REPORT, Kathmandu
Street vendors caught between compulsion, government action

Jan 16, 2015-

Seventy-year-old Parshuram Ghimire worked is a street vendor of 20 years. As the Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC), under the direction of the Home Ministry, launched a crackdown on footpath businesses last year, his sole source of income has dried up. “What shall this old man do?” lamented Ghimire. “I am under debt.”

Like Ghimire, thousands of people operating roadside shops at various places in the Capital have been rendered jobless. Protest programmes were launched at first but they gradually faded away with the government taking a strong stance.

“Some shifted to rented stores. Others moved back to their villages,” said Ghimire, who can neither afford the former nor imagine the latter. His two daughters are currently studying and a son is working in Kuwait. “My wife and my other son are in the same business and they have nothing to do as well.”

The KMC does allow vendors into the streets before 9am and after 6.30pm but peak business hours fall in between. “That is no time for business,” said Chandra Bahadur Karki whose average daily income has dropped from Rs 1,000 to almost nil. Karki, 61, sold pants on the streets around Sundhara.

“We are citizens. The state should acknowledge our peril.” Karki blames government officials under whose direction the KMC is evicting people like him from the streets. Keshab Achhami is a member of the United Self-employed Traders Struggle Committee, comprising various trade unions across party lines. He sees no immediate respite for the vendors. “The only option is continuous protest,” he said.

The government did call the agitating street vendors for formal talks in April last year. But they ended inconclusively. “The call for talks was a sham. We did a study and prepared an official list of about 10, 000 vendors. We also proposed alternate sites. However, the government remained indifferent,” Achhami said.

Street vendors are united for their cause. They want the government to fix appropriate time and space for their businesses. “Or provide us another job,” added Achhami. His organisation is planning for sterner protests in the days to come. Opinions are divided over the government’s action. Most people agree that hawkers and costermongers on the sidewalks were being a nuisance. But the crackdown was ill-planned and ill-timed. Apart from the vendors, the eviction has led to a negative multiplier effect which has trickled down through the whole chain of suppliers. Moreover, not everyone in Kathmandu can afford to shop at malls and stores.

Saraswoti Khatri was setting up shop in front of the Nepal Airlines Corporation building in Sundhara at 1pm on Tuesday. “I will have to escape if they [KMC officials] arrive,” said Khatri, who sells second-hand books. If caught, the KMC will seize her goods.

Published: 17-01-2015 09:37

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