Tuesday Aug 16, 2022
Tuesday Aug 16, 2022

Prohibitory order: A cause for concern for street vendors

Fear of losing out on earnings grips many

2021 Apr 29, 15:26, Kathmandu
A street vendor on her duty before the lockdown Photo: Prasan Gurung

As the number of people being infected with the coronavirus started rising steadily, the government decided to impose a 15-day prohibitory order in Kathmandu valley from today to break the chain of infection.

There have been various restrictions placed with only a few businesses and offices being allowed to open. Movement of private and public vehicles has also been curtailed except for those delivering essential goods or services.

Usually, during such restrictions what most people fail to notice is the manner in which it affects the street vendors and daily wage earners. There are thousands of people in Kathmandu valley who depend on their daily earnings to survive. And this is one major reason we witnessed an exodus of people to their villages.

On average a street vendor in Kathmandu earns around Rs 22,000 in a month through which they are able to manage their daily needs and send their children to school. However, with such prohibitory orders their earnings tumble. The capital is a major hub for street vendors selling various types of goods from vegetables to electronic items and clothes. Since they sell products which are comparatively a lot cheaper we can see a lot of consumers thronging their stalls.

Though street vendors fall under the category of the informal economy their contribution to the country’s economy cannot be ignored. In fact, as per the International Labour Organistaion, more than 70 per cent of the economically active population in Nepal is involved in the informal economy. However, despite their contribution there are no proper laws and regulations in Nepal that guarantee their social protection.

Radhika Bandari and her food stall business
Photo: Prasan Gurung
Radhika Bandari and her food stall business Photo: Prasan Gurung

For many socially and economically marginalised people, street vending is the only source of income and most of them are the sole bread earners of the family. Most people are drawn towards street vending as it requires low capital and offers flexible working hours.

“I have to not only earn a living but also look after my family and street vending offers me this flexibility,” says Radhika Bhandari, who sells chatpatey (puffed rice mixed with various spicy ingredients) on a cart. Through her income she is able to manage all her expenses including her son’s school fees. “However, such prohibitory orders are going to make it difficult for us to even survive,” she shares, adding that she still has not been able to come out of the rut she was placed in during the previous lockdown.

“Street vending is not an easy task. It requires a lot of hard work and patience but it at least helps us earn a decent living,” she says. Bhandari adds that even during normal times there are difficulties like when the authorities of the municipality confiscate their carts and goods. “The cart that I own now is actually my fourth cart. The previous three were seized by the municipality.”

A lot of people in Kathmandu often complain about how street vendors occupy the footpaths and create crowds or at times are even the main reason for the traffic jams. What we fail to comprehend is the financial security that street vending offers to a major segment of Nepal’s population.

Kamal Parsai on his way to work
Photo: Prasan Gurung
Kamal Parsai on his way to work Photo: Prasan Gurung

“I can still vividly remember my emotions during the first lockdown. My wife had just given birth to our youngest child and I no longer had any source of income,” reminisces Kamal Parsai, who has been selling clothes on the streets for the last 17 years. “The previous lockdown literally devastated me but I somehow managed to overcome the ordeal,” he shares.

“What made things worse was that I did not have a habit of saving any money for a rainy day which I have learnt now,” says Parsai. He adds that he does support the present lockdown imposed by the government keeping in mind the rate at which cases of infections have been rising. “But if the 15-day prohibitory order is extended further then I will have no option other than to leave Kathmandu valley,” he mentions.

Most street vendors also complain that in times like these there is no help forthcoming from any government authority and they are left to fend for themselves. There have been various seminars and studies regarding the necessity of rules governing the social protection of people involved in the informal economy. However, Nepal has yet to introduce proper policies on the issue.

“Listening to Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli giving his speeches is very pleasant but his words are merely that. Nothing concrete is ever done,” says Shankar Kumar Nepali, who runs a small tailoring unit on the street behind Dharahara. “I remember in one of his speeches he had stated very seriously that he would look into the problems plaguing street vendors and I had high expectations,” he shares, adding that he is still waiting for some action from the government.

Nepali further mentions that every time he sees the personnel deployed by the municipality his heart skips a beat. “It is time somebody in authority understood our plight and allowed us to continue with our business.”

Though Nepali says that the prohibitory order was necessary to curb the spread of the coronavirus he is scared of losing out on his earnings. “The fact that I still have to pay off a lot of debt is unnerving at times,” he says, adding that a lot of street vendors like him have taken loans from finance companies. “If the prohibitory order is extended I earnestly don’t know what I am going to do.”

What is common among all the three vendors is that they do understand the implications if the infection rate is allowed to rise unfettered and a lockdown is required but what if the government decides to extend it. We will know about that only when the time comes.

Shankar Kumar Nepali, a street vendor who mends the clothes
Photo: Prasan Gurung
Shankar Kumar Nepali, a street vendor who mends the clothes Photo: Prasan Gurung
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