Balancing Livelihoods and Public Spaces: Lessons for Kathmandu Metropolitan City

-Aarashi Ghimire

Ms. Ghimire ​​is a research intern at Samriddhi Foundation, an economic policy think tank based in Kathmandu. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not represent the views of the organization. Author can be reached at Aarashi Ghimire [email protected]

Street vending has been timeless and the most viable self-employed avenue of the informal sector in South Asia. From the vantage point of the consumers they are convenient, from the vantage point of the seller, it is an opportunity of self-employment. The streets of Kathmandu have witnessed this firsthand for many years. Despite having their own merits, they have been facing continuous mistreatment from the KMC police. On the one hand, there is the right to earn a livelihood on the other hand there is the question of the limits of using a public space.

The dilemma is not entirely new to Nepal. It exists everywhere, and its solutions vary depending on the context. Across the border, India faced similar challenges. Vending culture is prevalent in India, but recognition of their contribution to the economy is not. Like in Nepal, they too face harassment, humiliation, sudden evictions, and confiscation of property. Only in the last decade has their situation changed, and this change has only come from the continuous and clever efforts of activists and the National Association of Street Vendors of India (NASVI).

History of Street Vending in India
During the 1990s, massive layoffs in India prompted a migration of workers to urban areas, where they became part of the informal sector as street vendors. Despite being vital to the supply chain and providing affordable services, they were stigmatized, this was further exacerbated by a lack of any legal recognition which often meant that they were considered a public nuisance. Numerous incidents of harassment finally led to the formation of the National Alliance of Street Vendors of India (later the National Association of Street Vendors of India) in 1998. Since its formation, NASVI has committed itself to creating a supportive environment for street vendors by fortifying its organization structure, engaging in dialogues with administrators and planners, and capacity-building of its members.

Formulation of the Street Vendors Act

NASVI’s commitment to the cause was helped by its approach to data-driven advocacy. NASVI’S 2001 study titled “Hawkers in the Urban Informal Sector: A Study of Street Vending in Seven Cities” was pivotal to its advocacy efforts. Not only did it provide concrete data on key issues it also emphasized how street vendors were an integral part of the urban landscape. Their efforts finally paid off when in August 2001 the government formed a National Task Force on Street Vendors. In 2004, the National Policy on Urban Street Vendors policy was adopted which officially acknowledged street vendors as contributors and called for a legal recognition of the street vendors.

Although a policy was adopted, legal recognition only came in September 2014 after the adoption of the Street Vendors Act. This act ensured their protection and stipulated training programs for the vendors in terms of their rights and responsibilities, food safety, hygiene and waste disposal. It also entailed the formation of the Town Vending Committee (TVC), which would be the main policy-making body for street stalls. The TVC would consist of 40% of street vendors among which 33% would be women.

Change in Kathmandu Metropolitan Cities attitude towards street vending is slightly different. It hasn’t just come from the efforts of those who are involved in street vending but also those who benefit from the services of street vendors. Dignity of vendors has been at the forefront of all advocacy efforts in Nepal.

The campaign “Gareeba ko Chameli Boldine Kohi Chha Ra?” was run under the leadership of activist Iih which demanded for a policy that guarantees respectful and dignified treatment of and alternative arrangements for cycle, cart, traditional, and street vendors. After 3 months of peaceful protest and 199 hours of standing protest, the government and KMC reached an agreement that paves the way for a policy to manage street vending in Kathmandu. This is an ample opportunity for us to make use of lessons from our neighbor India.

First, the KCM administration needs to recognize street vending as an important factor in contributing to the economy. It helps in empowering the urban poor and lifting them out of poverty. Secondly, the activists and advocates can help facilitate the creation and strengthening of a street vendors group to engage with policy makers, urban planners, and the public at large. In addition to this efforts can be taken to gather data and conduct studies in order to create an evidence-based policy in order to address the issue from the national level. Finally, KMC can also create a commission like TVC which will have representatives from the street vendors, traffic police, and urban planners in order to efficiently manage the public spaces for usage and commerce. This needs to be complemented with initiatives to invest in the capacity building of the vendors in terms of rules and regulations pertaining to them, waste management and hygiene.