Managing street entrepreneurs

  • For assimilation of street vendors in urban planning, spaces must be viewed as multi-functional areas

Dec 12, 2017-

Kathmandu has become a land of opportunity for many informal micro entrepreneurs. Even on rowdy walkways, vendors are seen selling goods ranging from foodstuff to clothes and electronic items. With cumulative urban migration and unemployment, selling goods on the streets has emerged as the best alternative means of earning a livelihood for many urban dwellers. Requirement of low skills and small financial input also makes it a superlative choice for entrepreneurs. Vendors play an important role in the urban economy, offering necessary items to average income-earning households. Moreover, they act as marketing agents for many small-scale industries that produce cheap consumer goods.

However, the sustainable management of haphazard street vending is a concern. While street vending has given thousands of families access to economic opportunities, it also presents a problem of encroachment and congestion on the roads. Many pedestrians in Kathmandu have time and again complained that unmanaged street vendors are creating disturbances in the city and obstructing vehicles and pavements. Yet at the same time, the number of street hawkers are rising these days because of the public demand for mobile services and cheap consumer goods.  Street food too has emerged as a unique and popular informal sector of business in Kathmandu. With such trends in mind, instead of creating legal barriers that could prevent street vendors from selling their wares, the government should seek a solution through which vendors can thrive sustainably without obstructing traffic or being subjected to public complaints.

Systematic assimilation

Issues concerning street vendors cover a broad spectrum including the economic circumstances of vendors, their legal working hours, issues of public space and the amount of bribes they have to pay in order to remain in the market. Similarly, as an unlicensed business, they enjoy neither safety nor security at work and are constantly vulnerable to harassment from the municipal police. The entire existence and nature of the street market is particularly informal, without any legal base. The street markets have been sustained through public interest and a successful ‘hide-and-seek’ relationship with local authorities. A 45 year old cloth vendor inside Purano Buspark said, “We run as soon as we see municipal police. If they catch us, they take away our things. We have to sell these goods because this is the only way we can feed our families.”

Our development plan mainly regards urban spaces as mono-functional, ascribing spaces for a certain purpose and operating accordingly. For the systematic assimilation of street vendors in urban planning, it is essential to view urban spaces as multi-functional and multi-purposed areas. If we look at the international scenario, Singapore’s government has managed to build an environment where street vendors are recognised as an essential part of city business; they have been integrated into the city’s organised hawker centres. Licensed vendors in Singapore are required to pay rent as per the criteria and the government has promoted vendor’s goods as a symbolic feature of Singapore’s traditional life, which attracts thousands of tourists each year.  

Legal provisions

The provision of an urban public space for micro enterprises remains a significant policy challenge that needs to be addressed further in development plans. Areas with street vending activities show that this financial movement can be a structural platform that could create jobs for surplus labour in Nepal. Countries have credited street vending for generating employment and a survival income for the marginalised urban population. A research study entitled “Street vending and public policy: A global review” has shown that when urban management policies incorporate vendors, there are positive impacts on numerous fronts such as entrepreneurship, employment and social mobility.

Similarly, vending is an economy friendly enterprise because it thrives under cases of economic recession as well as financial boom. As the economy picks up in urban areas, the demand for street vendors will rise, and more people will take up the occupation. Those migrants seeking an economic platform could also be attracted to the vending sector. Additionally, street vending acts as an immediate solution for declining employment during periods of recession, resulting in  growth of the number of vendors.

The common problem faced by street vendors is their rightful and legal existence in the urban informal sector. Therefore, they are deprived of social security, facilities, and dignity in the workplace. Certain areas where street vendors can sell their wares should be identified and demarcated by the state authorities. The street vendors can then be made aware of the benefits of functioning in these areas. They must also be provided with direct incentives and facilities like basic substructures such as a proper workplace, toilets, drinking water and other rudimentary services. If places with proper legal protocols are identified for the use of street venders, and if the space is managed properly, then vending will no longer be a problem in Kathmandu. 

- Poudyal is pursuing a Master’s degree in International Relations and Diplomacy, Tribhuvan University

Published: 12-12-2017 07:41

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