Why Hawkers and vendors compete to sell fruits and vegetables on street footpath and parking spaces

In a recent move by Thimphu Thromde to clear vegetable vendors and hawkers from the footpaths and parking spaces of Wangchu Lam, a new battleground has emerged as vendors find themselves in a newer location, in front of the parking spaces of the Kaja Throm. Traditional vegetable vendors, residents, and authorities are now grappling with the challenges presented by this transfer, highlighting the complex relationship between supporting livelihoods and maintaining order.

Pema Wangmo, a veteran vegetable vendor with a decade of experience in Thimphu, reveals her struggles amidst the growing competition. “This trend has been going on for a while, but the situation worsened as more vendors crowded Wangchu Lam. As a single mom and breadwinner, I had to adapt to survive and afford rent,” she said, highlighting the economic desperation that led her to move location to the streets, leaving her counter out and open in Kaja Throm.

Thinley Jamtsho, another hawker, shed light on the challenges faced by vendors seeking traditional counter space.

“Getting a slot alongside counters is difficult, and the space is often insufficient. Wealthier individuals compound the issue by hiring multiple counters for themselves, leaving limited opportunities for smaller vendors,” he said, emphasizing the time-consuming process of waiting for counters to become available.

Likewise, Dawa Dema from Paro revealed that even after getting a space at the Kaja Throm to sell, there seems to be an air of negativity.

Most of them said that the choice of first come, first serve is an issue; therefore, they are not able to get a spot and sell the produce. Secondly, as most of the hawkers sell their goods at a lower price, they get less number of customers.

Dawa Dema said, “It was just yesterday that we went to sell our goods alongside the free spaces, but later on, we found that our goods were squished and kept aside by other vendors.”

As the footpaths of Wangchu Lam transform into impromptu markets, local businesses and residents express frustration over the resulting crowded spaces and diminished parking availability. Complaints about slowed business and restricted parking have sparked a growing tension between established businesses and the influx of street vendors.

Now, the commuters and the traditional vegetable vendors have expressed the exact same problem due to the same issue at the new location.

Shoppers like Tandin Tshewang are frustrated as they cannot find parking spaces, as the hawkers and vegetable vendors and shoppers have taken up the space to sell fruits and vegetables.

He said, “Parking space should be the last place a driver has to worry about hitting a pedestrian, as it is for vehicles, but for this area, it is starting to become a problem. The day before yesterday was fine here, but now it is getting troublesome.”

In response to the escalating situation at a newer location, Thimphu Thromde had nothing to say after the release of the notification on the illegality of selling the products on the footpath and from the vehicles parked along the footpaths.

On the other hand, it was found out that on 21 December, alongside the Thrompon and the Director of Kaja Throm, Thromde and Kaja Throm demarcated their areas of jurisdiction for the parking spaces.

It was found out that Kaja Throm management is responsible for looking after only 7 parking spaces beside the entrance of the Kaja Throm, whereas everything else belongs to Thimphu Thromde.

The official revealed that the same issue is now arising alongside the parking spaces under the jurisdiction of Thimphu Thromde. They could not do anything like before, as revealed by the Kaja Throm Management, as they were questioned about their rights and authorities, and this is the same case for now.

While the hawkers assert on their right to make a living in challenging times, residents and businesses demand order and adherence to regulations. The clash raises questions about finding a balance between supporting the livelihoods of street vendors and maintaining the organised functioning of established markets.

Amidst the ongoing clash between vegetable vendor crowds, Kaja Throm Management asserts that there are plenty of vacant spaces for vendors to utilize. However, vendors appear to favour the bustling footpaths and parking spaces, citing better sales as the primary reason for their preference.

Despite assurances from the authorities regarding available spaces within Thimphu Thromde, many vendors continue to sidestep these options, opting instead for the footpaths of Wangchu Lam and in front of the Kaja Throm parking spaces. A prevailing sentiment among the hawkers is that sales in the suggested locations are subpar, driving them to compete for attention along the popular Wangchu Lam and in front of the Kaja Throm parking spaces.

The age-old trend of villagers journeying to urban centres to sell their produce collides with modern challenges as Thimphu grapples with the influx of vegetable vendors pretending to be hawkers.

Kinley Zangmo, a 54-year-old from Punakha, said, “This is my first-time experience selling oranges in Thimphu; she recalls the past practice of selling on the outskirts of the centenary farmer’s market.”

On 15 November, villagers found themselves in a dilemma as their crates of produce, laden with abundant fruits, were asked to be removed amidst the preparation of the national day celebration.

Pema, an elderly vendor from Punakha, expresses his distress, revealing that, despite years of selling produce in the city, this is the first time he has had to navigate the challenges of Wangchu Lam.

Pema, who came to Thimphu to sell guavas, contemplates relocating due to the escalating restrictions and competition in Wangchu Lam. The uncertainty about the future prompts him to explore alternative locations, emphasising the challenges faced by vendors in adapting to the evolving dynamics of Thimphu’s vegetable market.

During the investigation, it was found that there was a surge of street vendors disguising themselves as farmers and middlemen, taking advantage of the footpaths along Wangchu Lam and now in front of the Kaja Throm, parking spaces to sell vegetables directly from villages. This trend has ignited strains between established vendors, local authorities, and Thimphu Thromde.

As the vegetable market undergoes renovations, traditional vendors in the Centenary Farmers’ Market and Kaja Throm admit to a temporary business slowdown. Despite the challenges, they express hope for the swift completion of renovations and a return to normalcy.

A noticeable trend unfolds as individuals masked as villagers dominate the Wangchu Lam footpaths and at the new local in front of the Kaja Throm parking spaces. Claiming that established vendors are closing stalls and selling on footpaths, these hawkers defend their actions, arguing that wholesalers are also engaging in retailing on the streets.

Kaja Throm officials said that they have been writing down the names of the individuals breaching the regulations, however, Kaja Throm is limited by the jurisdiction limitation.

Before, vegetable vendors with pick-up trucks, seeking convenience, navigated through Wangchu Lam to sell produce, contributing to the congestion; now it is the same case at the newer location.

Customers are drawn to the street hawkers, believing they offer cheaper prices. However, a hawker asserts that his prices match those inside the stalls in Kaja Throm.

Despite Thimphu Thromde declaring street vending illegal, hawkers and wholesalers turn a blind eye to the warnings.

In response to the escalating tensions, street hawkers propose a complete stop to unregulated selling on footpaths, advocating a return to established counters. They argue that reducing competition would allow them to operate more comfortably.

Likewise, the vegetable vendors and the hawkers argued that the locations assigned by the authorities were not feasible for them to sell. Claiming there are only a few customers to buy from them.  

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