As Birendranagar is the gateway to most of the districts of Karnali, it is crowded with people. The number of people coming to Birendranagar from different districts of Karnali for education, employment and trade has also increased recently.
There are various constituent and affiliated public and private campuses of Midwestern University and Tribhuvan University in Birendranagar for higher education (from undergraduate to doctoral degree). Due to the increasing number of residents, the traffic has been disrupted. It has been argued that unorganized street businesses have also contributed to the increment of traffic problems.
In Karnali, only 42 percent of the people are involved in economic activities, which mean that 58 percent of the people are not involved in economic activities. Even though the capital of Karnali province, Birendranagar Municipality of Surkhet has the largest population in Karnali, it does not have a large population dedicated towards economic activities.
The street business is an area of the informal economy that connects citizens to employment and economic activities. According to the statistics of Birendranagar Municipality for the year 2076 BS, the number of street vendors in the municipality was 700.
According to the latest statistics of Birendranagar Municipality, the number of street vendors dropped to 220 in the municipality, in the span of three years, meaning the number of street vendors has decreased by about 500 in the last three years.
There could be various reasons for why hundreds of people who contributed by engaging people in economic activities exited the street business in such a short period of time, for which a dire need for such a study has been felt.
One of the reasons for the exit of street vendors is the way the municipality deals with the vendors. As there is a research gap on the reasons for the rampant exit of street businesses, this study focuses on the problems and obstacles faced by street businesses.
Claiming that by encroaching sidewalks and public areas of Birendranagar Municipality, the street vendors have created a problem to the health and beauty of the city, Birendranagar Municipality prepared procedure law for ‘Market and City Management Campaign 2074’ in order to control and regulate this campaign.
The objectives of which were to control and regulate those doing business by encroaching the public sidewalks and other public areas, and to discourage littering by cleaning the drains blocked by garbage. Under the implementation of which, the sidewalk should be cleared and walkable within 7 days and commodities should be removed within 15 days.
Despite repeated attempts to remove the street vendors, the sidewalk business did not go away. The street vendors said that they could not leave because they were told to leave without the provision of an alternative option.
In the month of Kartik 2076, the Birendranagar Municipality removed the street vendors in Mangalgadhi Chowk, Bus Park and other areas for spoiling the beauty of the market. The street vendors were outraged when despite the lack of provision of alternatives, the dozers were driven into the place where they had been operating their business in that area for years.
They had been paying the municipality Rs. 300 and cleaning fee Rs. 100 for running their sreet business. Even though Birendranagar Municipality removed the shops operating on the street, the problem was not resolved. The street vendors were disappointed that the municipality removed them without presenting any alternative.
Since their main source of income is the street business, they disobeyed the instructions of the municipality and started doing business at the same places. A street vendor who has been running a cosmetic shop at the local Gantaghar Chowk said that the municipality should arrange a commercial space for them.
She wished for an arrangement of a proper place for their businesses instead of closing down their businesses as they were making a living from their street businesses. She said that sitting on the side of the road is not a desire but a compulsion.” The municipality should understand our obligation and make necessary management accordingly.” she told reporters. The municipality has coordinated with Nepal Police and Traffic Police to clear the street businesses from the street.
“Continuing the market and city management campaign of the current fiscal year, obstacles and road encroachments has been removed from various places. The street business of the market area including Ward no 6 has been cleared” and “A policy shall be implemented where public bodies including offices under the municipality will be requested to purchase goods and services only from the businessmen who have paid the tax due to the municipality according to the rules” have been written in policies, budgets and programs for the fiscal year 2076/077 of Birendranagar Municipality Surkhet.
The municipality has not included the issue of footpath management in the budget policies and programs of the following fiscal years. Looking at the efforts made by the municipality so far, it has been found that instead of managing the street business, they are trying to deprive the street vendors from doing their business.
It also seems that they are not creating a suitable opportunity for the street vendors to come into the scope of revenue, but rather they are trying to restrict their right to sell commodities.
(This article is prepared on the basis of the study done by Hriti Foundation on ‘Situation of Street Vendor in Birendranagar: Policy Obstacles and Remedy of the Solutions’. Five articles will be published in this series.)