Nepal’s Footpath Vendors Seek Legalization As Police Struggle to Keep Them in Check


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It’s illegal to sell goods on the street in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital city, but street vendors are so numerous that city police struggle to keep them from clogging pedestrian-only areas. Vendors say the city should give them a place where they can legally do business. Kalpana Khanal, GPJ Nepal

The vendors — nearly 35,000 in Kathmandu alone, according to some estimates — who sell a variety of low-cost wares illegally in pedestrian-only areas are disrupting foot and vehicular traffic. They’ve sought to get their own vending zones, and even when they’re fined and their items seized, they find ways to continue selling on the streets.

KATHMANDU, NEPAL ─ When Rita Tamang sees police approaching the footpath areas near Kathmandu’s Old Bus Park, she hides immediately.

If she’s caught selling fruit on the pedestrian-only footpath, everything she carries on her bamboo tray could be confiscated, and she could be fined up to 15,000 Nepalese rupees ($140) ─ a huge sum for a woman who earns about 400 rupees ($3.74) per day ─ or even detained by police.

“I do not have courage to speak up against the municipality police when they seize my goods, so it’s better to run away to protect goods and hide it,” she says.

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Rita Tamang, 40, sells fruit on the street in Kathmandu. She hides when she sees city police approaching the footpath where she hawks her wares.

Kalpana Khanal, GPJ Nepal

Hawking goods anywhere in Kathmandu is illegal, but municipal police pay special attention to footpaths, where vendors choke up space and push people into the street, and where they disrupt traffic and are at risk of getting hit by vehicles. But even when the vendors are fined and their wares are seized, they find ways to continue selling on the streets.

Despite the law, street vendors do near-constant business in Kathmandu. There are almost 35,000 of them in the city, according to the Nepal Self-Employed Trade Workers Association, and city residents’ eager buying of their snacks, clothes, produce, toys and other items keeps those small businesses afloat.

Vendors who are caught are, on average, fined 200 rupees ($1.87) to 1,000 rupees ($9.35) ─ far less than the 15,000-rupee limit, says Bishnu Prasad Joshi, deputy superintendent of police at the Kathmandu Metropolitan City’s Municipal Police.

Between 10 and 20 vendors are arrested each day during police patrols of the footpaths, Joshi says. That’s down from about 50 vendors per day a decade ago. Still, he says, he needs a staff of 500 ─ significantly larger than the current 176 ─ to adequately deal with the problem. That staff shortage means that street patrols end at 6 p.m. each day, he says, and vendors come out in full force in the evening.

In the past, vendors engaged in violent spats with police, says Shivaji Dhahal, 45, an assistant inspector with the municipal police.

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Shivaji Dhahal, 45, an assistant police inspector, works to keep Kathmandu’s pedestrian-only areas free of street vendors.

Kalpana Khanal, GPJ Nepal



“They used to come at us with stones and bricks for confrontation, and there would be clashes between the police and vendors,” says Dhahal, who been a police officer since 1993.

Now vendors like Tamang, the fruit seller, run and hide, he says. When possible, police officers explain that it’s illegal to sell on the street.

The efforts have had some success. Sidewalks that were once completely choked with vendors are now more open, Dhahal says.

The change hasn’t helped Resham Tamang, 25, who travels by motorbike throughout the city every day. Vendors congest the sidewalks and crowds spill out into the street, he says.

“Sometimes my bike hits people who walk on the road, and I get scolded,” he says. “Sometimes I get scolded daily.”

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Resham Tamang, 25, says he sometimes struggles to weave his motorbike between pedestrians who walk in the street because vendors choke up the footpath.

Kalpana Khanal, GPJ Nepal

Vendors don’t choose to be at odds with police, says Kumar Sapkota, chairman of Nepal Street Vendors Trade Union. Sapkota has been a street vendor for nearly 25 years.

But they provide an important service, especially for other low-income people who can’t afford to buy products elsewhere, he says.

Shankar Sapkota, 53, says he, his wife and adult children buy most of their food from street vendors, and even many of their clothes.

“Those people who have high incomes can buy stuff from bigger shops or shopping malls,” he says. “But, for people like us from middle class or lower class, this is right for us.”

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Shankar Sapkota, 53, says his family relies on street vendors because their goods are inexpensive and readily available.

Kalpana Khanal, GPJ Nepal

The vendors have protested regularly over the years to demand that they be allowed to legally sell on the streets, Kumar Sapkota says.

That’s not possible, says Gyanendra Karki, spokesperson for the Kathmandu Metropolitan City Office.

“Vendors want to come to busy areas in Kathmandu, where there is high movement of people, to do their business,” Karki says. “How can they be given a large space in such areas to do their business?”

Tamang, the fruit seller, says she sets up shop on the street because she doesn’t have any other options.

“Nobody gives me a better job, as I’m not educated,” she says. “Either the government should provide me with a job or I have to do something to make a living!”


EDITOR’S NOTE: No sources in this article are related.

Sagar Ghimire, GPJ, translated this article from Nepali.