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Dumplings & Porridge at 3.00 AM

The day for Thinley, 35, begins at around 6.00 AM, everyday. He gets up, washes and then begins the only skill he has – making dumplings. He then packs it into a hot case and moves from one building to another in the capital. The length of his day and earnings depend on luck. Sometimes, everything is sold by noon. At other times, he has to move around till late night.

“I sell a plate of vegetarian dumplings for Nu 60 and non-vegetarian dumplings for Nu 80 and in a day I am able to earn around Nu 1000-1500,” Thinley says, adding that, it is not an easy job. At times, they face the wrath of agencies like the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) and Thromde officials.

However, there is good news for Thinley and his likes. The minister of Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Employment (MoICE), Karma Dorji, said that the government will support street hawkers, like Thinley, though they fall under the in-formal sectors.  

The minister shared this during the question and hour session of the 9th session of the Third Parliament. National Assembly (NA) Member of Parliament (MP) Karma Lhamo of Monggar constituency, Monggar questioned the minister and said that street hawkers are restricted to do business, at popular areas by the RBP and Thromde officials. . 

The MP said that most of the vendors are from decent family backgrounds including unemployed people, single mothers, amongst others; however, they are restricted to sell. If permitted, it would help economy revival of the country, she said. She asked the MoICE minister to share what the government is doing for the street vendors.

In response, the MoICE minister, Karma Dorji said that as street vendors are an informal-sector, it is under the jurisdiction of the local government, Thromde, amongst others. However, the minister said that the government will provide the full support to the street hawkers since it will also help Bhutan’s economy.

The minister informed the house that the government had consulted about street vendors in the month of May with concerned agencies like Thromde, RBP, Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) and came up with a new rule. 

Street vendor will be allowed to do their business till 3 AM in the morning during Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, and, likewise, in other days they can continue their business till 1 AM. The minister shared the street vendors are also given trainings on maintaining hygiene and cleanliness.

Thinley, who sells his dumplings in the Olakha area and Babesa area without the notice of the Thromde officials and the RBP, is now relieved.  “I had instances where I was sometimes not permitted to sell. Now, I can do this peacefully,” he said.

Thinley also said that it is important to focus and dedicate themselves towards the work and also to manage the finance. Otherwise, it is very difficult to do such business. 

Another street vendor, who mostly sells porridge and dumplings from Friday to Sunday, says that she mostly sells at night. “My customers are mostly cab drivers and people who go for parties and karaoke.”  

She shared that because they don’t hold any licence to do such business unlike other business entity, she obeys the official on duty who says not to sell. However; she said that she had to continue the businesses for economic reasons, often hiding from officials. She expressed her gratitude to the government and all concerned agencies and hopes for a better future here after.

Dawa, another street vendor, said that he is happy to hear from the government that the street vendors will be given full support. It will be much easier for them to do the business.

“I hope the government will also allow us to sell our street food during public gatherings,” Dawa said, adding that, he hopes all his friends will also be happy to hear the news.

Street hawkers in the country are very popular amongst people who hangout late at night and those who love street food.

Karma Tshering, a private employee said that as people party, by 2.00 to 3.00 am, they become hungry. “It is very expensive to buy food from within the discos and karaoke. Some do not serve food also. Thus, I also take about two plates of bathub, after a party and then go home.”

Karma also said that it is important for the government to teach the hawkers about hygiene. “Sometimes people get food poisoning. So agencies like BAFRA should also monitor. The street vendors will also become responsible and not sell stale food,” he said. 

Meanwhile, a businessman near Thimphu’s main traffic said that the government’s decision is good and would benefit the people. “However, they should also be sensitised about waste management. Some of the hawkers just throw their garbage everywhere as they move on,” he said.

Sherab Dorji from Thimphu