VNIT Eat Street – Itna sannata kyon hai bhai?!!

First they waived their Magic wand and made all the street food stalls along the Traffic Park in Dharampeth disappear.

Now, all, well, almost all Street food vans, kiosks and ‘thelas’ that lined up the South Ambazari road on the sides of the VNIT Main gate have disappeared. It is reported that just 2-3 days ago, on Friday or Saturday, the day before Eid, Police came and literally drove away all the street food vendor. They took into custody some thelas and threatened strict action against anyone refusing to co operate.

According to some of them who NT spoke to on condition of anonymity, they were not given any reason why they were being driven away from there.

” Upar se orders hain” were all they would say. Some, who are ‘friends’ with the police, were given to understand that this is ‘just till Ganpati Visarjan; you can come back later’. Some are fearing that this is the beginning of the end – they will HAVE to find other spots, till the ‘uparwallahs’ decide to evict them from their too.

Some of the food stalls have been there since a decade

On a round of the road today we managed to spot just one or two of the earlier vendors, trying to appear visible to motorists, two wheelers and pedestrians, while at the same time trying to hide in the nooks and corners of the lanes joining this main road.

One ‘Chaiwallah’ was brewing tea and pouring it for some customers, who looked like students, most probably from VNIT. Seeing me aim my cell phone at him, his wife covered the ‘thela’ and asked in a frightened voice,
“who are you? Why are you taking our photograph?”

When I explained that I was from the ‘friendly press’ and was trying to assess the situation, her husband spoke up. He said he has been selling tea on this road for the past 9 years!

“This is the only source of livelihood for me and my family. There were hundreds of others like me on this road; we have been here for a long time. Earlier there were traditional street food thelas like Pani poori, Pav bhaji, Samosa etc.Then came Chinese, selling noodles. Bachche logo ko bahut pasand aata hai. Now the trend has changed and you get all kinds of food. ‘Videshi’ food like …woh kya kehte hai? Pasta, pizza and burger. Bread ke sandwiches…parathe… sab kuch milne laga tha ”

Were they shifted due to traffic issues?

Some daily commuters who pass on the road and live in the vicinity say what with work of Cement roads going on, and customers cars parked along both sides of the roads, the food stalls were causing traffic jams and bottle necks.

It seem there was a hug traffic pile up just the day before police took action and got the street evicted.

It looks like a ghost road now, deserted and haunted. The lights, the hustle bustle of the food trucks and vans, the customers milling round them … is all gone. The darkness that covers the earlier bright spots seems to have engulfed everything.

Why isn’t this business regularized?

Just the fact that hundreds of Street food vendors co existed and most managed to not just survive but flourish too, shows that there is a need for such comparatively cheap, and fresh, food outlets. It is mostly the student community that patronized them; many young professionals too. Because some of the food sold here, like momos for instance, are not available in most restaurants.

If you talk to the young men, and some women who run these outlets, you find they have turned to this ‘business’ because of lack of job opportunities.

NT had featured a father-son duo who run a food truck along this road that was very popular for its chicken dishes. The father was forced to migrate to Chennai for a job while the son lived in Nagpur alone to attend college. The son is very fond of cooking and has been the voluntary chef for all his friends’ birthday parties. THEY beseeched him to get into the food business.

Not everyone can afford opening a proper restaurant but this street food business does not come cheap either.

Depending on what the set up is, these self employed entrepreneurs have invested from Rs. 10,000/ to right up to Rs. 6 lakhs. (We are talking about a re modeled food ‘bus’ here). A thela costs a few thousand, and then some more cash is needed for painting it and ‘doing it up’. Most morning breakfast people like ‘tarri -poha’ vendors have thelas; ladies selling upma, idlis, and sabudana khichdi and wadas have joined them recently.

Everyone got a ‘challan’ once in a while

As the chaiwalla I spoke to enlightened me, the police did not ‘take protection money’ (hafta) from him but once a while he was given a challan. Specially when some two wheelers were found parked in front of his thela. Then he had to appear in front of a Magistrate and pay up Rs. 300/ or so and promise ‘not to cause traffic obstruction again’.

Some others said they were paying the police, ‘but not very regularly.’

We wonder why NMC does not give out licenses and ‘regularize’ this street food business? They can designate some roads/ areas as ‘available’ for street food business and earn some decent money in the bargain. Isn’t NMC cash strapped?

They had declared two years ago that they would allow only registered food vendors to do business. So what happened to that promise?

If this business is regularized customers will benefit too, because then the vendors will come under the scrutiny of Food and Drug Administration and food inspectors. It will bring some discipline to the business and safety consciousness will increase too.

In fact the government many years ago had formulated a National policy for street food vendors.

The Supreme court ruling on street food outlets

Approving of it the Supreme Court had also ruled that “if properly regulated according to the exigency of the circumstances, the small traders on the side walks can considerably add to the comfort and convenience of the general public, by making available ordinary articles of everyday use for a comparatively lesser price. An ordinary person, not very affluent, while hurrying towards his home after a day’s work can pick up these articles without going out of his way to find a regular market. The right to carry on trade or business mentioned in Article 19(1)g of the Constitution, on street pavements, if properly regulated cannot be denied on the ground that the streets are meant exclusively for passing or repassing and no other use.”

The Central govt. document on the policy itself reads:

Street vending as a profession has been in existence in India since time immemorial. However, their number has increased manifold in the recent years. According to one study Mumbai has the largest number of street vendors numbering around 250,000, while Delhi has around 200,000. Calcutta has more than 150,000 street vendors and Ahmedabad has around 100,000. Women constitute a large number of street vendors in almost every city. Some studies estimate that street vendors constitute approximately 2% of the population of a metropolis. The total number of street vendors in the country is estimated at around 1 crore. Urban vending is not only a source of employment but provides ‘affordable’ services to the majority of urban population.

So will NMC and Nagpur Police stop acting arbitarily and think seriously around these lines??

—Sunita Mudaliar (Executive Editor)
—Pics by Vikrant Shimpi