Common sense has prevailed. The government has made the right decision in allowing street hawkers or vendors to ply their trade on the streets of Thimphu city.
This is another move that indicates that Bhutan is a strong democracy today. The government has heard and listened to the people, overturning a ban many saw as draconian.
This is the way forward. Instead of knee-jerk bans as a solution to any problem, consultation with the public and careful thought on an issue has brought us to a middle ground.
When the street hawkers were banned, a small movement kicked off.
A few concerned citizens took to organizing meets where thukpa vendors could continue selling their food and also talk about themselves and the problems they faced as a result of the ban. Several such meets took place, away from the eyes of the police and thromde. This was a display of how strongly some in the public felt about the issue.
While such meets may cause some to become alarmed, it is important to distinguish that it was for a social and economic cause, not one related to the peace and security of the nation, which would be a completely different matter altogether.
It is also important that we come to the realization that not all of us have the background and connections to pursue a variety of economic opportunities. For some, selling momos and thukpa on the streets may be the only option. And it is a respectable occupation unlike drug dealing or stealing.
We cannot ban our fellow citizens from an income earned through a profession that is not harming others. We must accept the phenomenon, but regulate it to a reasonable degree.
When it comes to hygiene, food safety, and littering, the concerns are valid.
The concerned agencies must sensitize or train street hawkers on these aspects. Training them about hygiene and food safety should not be a challenge.
As many zones for street hawkers need to be identified around the city. We cannot have them blocking footpaths or putting up shop on any road side. In these zones, the thromde must also ensure that enough waste disposal bins are placed and emptied frequently. Penalties, both for the street hawker and consumer must be enforced strictly to prevent littering, especially if waste disposal bins are available in their proximity.
The permitted timings for street hawkers may be a touchy subject. It will need to be worked out but in collaboration with the street hawkers.
Some of the street hawkers are catering to party goers late at night. There is demand at that time and so they supply. Authorities have said this is contributing to crime. Research conducted globally, however, points to poverty, unemployment, easy availability of alcohol and drug abuse, among others, as reasons for crime not food. There are convenience stores operating all day and all night abroad.
It is not the food that is causing crime. It is people. We don’t ban food from being sold during the day because it is causing crime during the day.
Rather, a better solution would be for an absolute zero-tolerance approach to our bars and clubs on whom they serve alcohol to. We cannot have them serving the under age, or someone already completely intoxicated.
The bottom line is crime is a different area that needs to be addressed separately, as it is most likely unrelated to the availability of street hawkers at night. If the street hawkers are supplying illegal drugs and alcohol to the youth, then they ought to be dealt with as any other citizen would be as per the law. But for a few bad apples, let’s not burn the tree.