Vietnam capital plans to ban street hawkers

HANOI (AFP) — Vietnam’s capital Hanoi plans to drive street vendors and hawkers off its sidewalks from Saturday in a push to bring order to the city and ease traffic flows, the administration said.

Women in conical hats selling flowers and fruit have been an iconic part of Hanoi’s colourful cityscape along with chanting vendors peddling wares from bicycle-stores, informal roadside cafes, open-air barbers and noodle shops.

But all that is set to change if the communist administration forges ahead with its newly-announced campaign to clear the sidewalks of unlicensed small businesses and shift them into small alleys and lanes.

Under a new directive, from Saturday vendors will be officially banned from selling goods on big streets and outside schools, hospitals, government offices, religious, cultural and historic sites, and bus and train stops.

“We will prohibit all forms of trading, such as peddling or automobile washing services, that take place on the sidewalk,” the mayor, Hanoi People’s Committee Chairman Nguyen The Thao, told state media this week.

“The purpose of the programme is to make sidewalks available for pedestrians and improve the face of the city. Foreign tourists will be happier and appreciate our management,” he told the state-run Vietnam News daily.

But street vendors and many residents voiced alarm as they waited to see how strictly the measure will be enforced.

“We will die of hunger,” cried Hoang Thi Hong, a 37-year-old newspaper hawker. “I have two children and a whole family to support … This is my only chance to earn money for the family.”

Resident Pham Quang Hung, 56, buying a steaming corn cob from a street seller, said: “I often buy things on the streets. It’s cheap and good and convenient. It’s inhumane to drive those people away. How can they live?”

Debate has raged over the plan since it was announced several weeks ago.

“Hanoi stands to lose its distinctive colour and charm in favour of Singapore-style regimentation,” said one letter to a Vietnamese newspaper.

But Thao told the Vietnam News that while he agreed Vietnam should safeguard its cultural traditions, “we do not have to conserve what is essentially a characteristic of underdevelopment.

“That tradition can be kept by filming and photographing,” he said.

With most Hanoi houses cramped, shops and cafes long ago began encroaching on the streets, while roadside spots have been coveted by merchants, tradesmen, hawkers and people selling underground lottery tickets.

Every day before dawn hundreds of rural women make hours-long bicycle trips from their small farms into the city of about three million to earn a few dollars selling fresh fruit and vegetables to wealthier city dwellers.

The small businesses have long operated on the edge of legality and Hanoi police, travelling in small vans equipped with loudhailers, have sporadically chased them away, sometimes fining them or confiscating their goods.

Thao said Hanoi was asking districts and industries to find ways to help the vendors and said the city “will choose a plan that allows peddlers, mostly people living in suburban areas, time to find a new way to earn a living”.


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