Home Nepal government Street vending needs regulation, not ad hoc crackdowns, experts say

Street vending needs regulation, not ad hoc crackdowns, experts say

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Last week’s crackdown by the Kathmandu Metropolitan City against a couple selling grilled corn on the sidewalk has once again put the civic police in the spotlight and raised questions about street vending and its regulation.

Friday, in a widely circulated video clip on Twitter, we see the municipal police brawling with the couple, snatching a cart full of corn from them. Despite the couple’s resistance, the police loaded the cart onto a municipal truck and drove off. The incident took place in Baluwatar in the capital.

The couple – Chetendra Acharya and his wife Sita – said they had been selling grilled maize in Baluwatar for 15 years.

The police and city administration drew widespread criticism following the incident. Critics called the incident “idiotand “inhumane” on the part of the municipal administration.

However, this is not the first time that the municipal police have cracked down on street vendors.

City police chief Dhanapati Sapkota said Friday’s incident is not an isolated case and they are confiscating 20 such carts from roadsides daily.

“This is just one example,” Sapkota told the Post, claiming the couple engaged in “illegal activity.”

After receiving criticism for the incident, KMC police said Sunday they would take further action against the couple.

However, it is unclear whether such crackdowns by municipal police are legal.

Article 11 of Law 2074 (2017) on the functioning of local government empowers the municipal police for the implementation of the law and policies of the city. The law also allows municipal police to carry out “surveillance” and “management” of local markets and parking lots, and to protect public land and property. The law, however, does not mention the degree of force police can use when detaining street vendors and their wares.

Basanta Acharya, information officer at the city, said the 13th municipal assembly of the city administration decided to ban people from doing business on the sidewalks.

“I guess the city police tried to implement this and the Baluwatar incident happened,” Acharya said.

Following the incident, the couple alleged that some city staff asked them for bribes – a sum of Rs 5,000 – to enable them to run their business. Acharya said there will be an internal investigation into the allegations.

“But our attention has been drawn to the issue of child abuse,” said Acharya, who is also a former head of the city’s legal division. “We will also investigate whether there is any sort of corruption or financial transaction between the municipal police and the vendors after consulting with the mayor.”

Urban planners and experts say street vending is a “global phenomenon” and authorities should focus on regulating vendors rather than violently attacking and driving them out.

In Nepal, tens of thousands of workers in the informal economy face challenges and difficulties because the government does not regulate street vending. There is no safety net for many in the informal sector, especially in urban areas.

Nearly half of the business establishments operating in Nepal are unregistered and considered informal businesses, according to the Analytical Report on the Informal Sector released by the Central Bureau of Statistics last year.

Of the 923,027 business establishments in the country, 34,101 (3.7%) were street businesses. Of the 3.23 million people employed in the country, 45,330 people were engaged in such enterprises.

Street vending is a livelihood for tens of thousands of people across the country. The vendors not only lead a difficult life, but they face repeated crackdowns and restrictions from hostile city officials for encroaching on the sidewalk and obstructing pedestrians.

According to the Street Vendors Union, there are more than 10,000 street vendors in Kathmandu. The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have severely affected their livelihoods. During the pandemic, vendors had shared that they had been harassed by the city office accusing them of spreading the virus, and they had been forced to close their businesses ahead of festival season.

City planners say the city should not harm people who work in the informal sector as they are major contributors to the city economy. They say he should cooperate with them for their relocation instead.

Kishore Thapa, an urban planner and former government secretary, said that since thousands of people live from street vending, the city administration should adopt a more sustainable approach.

“The way the municipal police mishandled the sales couple was inhumane,” he said. “The municipality should find a way out through consultation and dialogue to manage street sales. It should come up with separate rules to regulate street vendors.

After Friday’s incident, Kathmandu’s new mayor, Balendra Shah, also found himself in the eye of the storm for ignoring the plight of the poor. Shah, a rapper and structural engineer who introduced himself as a freelancer, was known for singing politically charged lyrics, often about the plight of the poor.

After Bidya Sundar Shakya’s much-criticized tenure as mayor, Shah’s election had raised hopes with people expecting him to do “much better”. However, he inherited many files from his predecessor, including waste management.

As the new mayor struggles to solve the perennial garbage problem that simply cannot be solved overnight, the crackdown on street vendors has raised questions about his intentions.

The couple were roughed up the same day the KMC issued a notice to make Kathmandu a city without beggars, a plan which experts say needs a well-thought-out approach to execute.

The feud between street vendors in Kathmandu and the authorities goes back more than a decade. Over the years, the authorities have also made many recommendations and promises to deal with street vendors in the city. None of them have been implemented.

Ten years ago, the government formed a committee to relocate street vendors from Khula Manch, Tinkune, Kalanki and Balaju regions. The committee’s recommendations were not implemented and street vendors continued to run their businesses where they found it convenient, preferably in busy places.

Then in 2014, Bamdev Gautam, the interior minister at the time, issued an order to evict all street vendors, but the latter refused to back down.

Shakya, after his election as mayor of Kathmandu in 2017, promised to solve the problem of street vendors with better relocation options, but he did little.

Experts say KMC officials should develop a long-term plan for how they can make the capital more livable rather than making knee-jerk reactions.

“It is true that the mayor’s first priority is to maintain law and order in the city,” said Thapa, the city planner. “But he should also think about a long and sustainable management of the street vending.”

Thapa cited examples of the world’s most developed cities where street vendors do their business without impeding the movement of others.

“The City may designate a specific location and time for vendors to conduct their business,” he said. “For example, it can introduce Sunday or Saturday markets or holiday markets in specific locations at specific times. If it were regulated and continued for a year, it would become a habit for everyone.