Standing up for street vendors

Dignity of labour

Standing up for street vendors

The way to a man’s heart is said to be his stomach. But the swiftest way to a Bangalorean’s stomach is the City's food streets. And, naturally there is an all-round appreciation in the City for a recent directive from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to all state governments “to be compassionate and kind to people selling a variety of fare on pushcarts and roadside kiosks”.

Street vendors, selling food items are heaving a sigh of relief that their profession has at last gained the respect from the powers that be. They are hoping that their long drawn battle against policemen to whom they have to pay a hefty bribe to survive every other day in the profession, would soon end.

Singh in his letter states that the vendors be allowed to earn their livelihood without having to face harassment from civic authorities. He suggests that the administration reserve exclusive space in all cities for street vendors.

But most vendors and their customers Metrolife interacted with are not in favour of creating new designated places for the trade to continue.

They say they are used to a particular location and shifting altogether would mean that links, forged over the years, will have to be rediscovered. But they are thrilled that street food would soon be legalised.

Murugan, who started making hot chips, muruku and fried short eats near Pallavi Theatre, near Town Hall 25 years ago had not heard about the Prime Minister’s directive. But he was thrilled on hearing about it. “At least, we won’t get chased away and we can carry on our business in peace and with pride,” says Murugan, who makes not less than Rs 2,000 a day but pays Rs 200 as bribe to cops.

 Another roadside vendor, Mutthu, has been making steaming hot idlis, dosas and lemon rice for 30 years now near Badami House. He always has a steady stream of customers at his makeshift joint. “I live 30 kilometres from here. My son and I push our cart up to this place every day. There is nothing more gratifying then our profession finding recognition among other professions,” says Mutthu. He says there are various issues that vendors have to battle to get through a day. Cops come knocking and sometimes demand food for free.

People who eat from vendors vouch for the cleanliness and say that they get their meal hot and straight off the tava. “What can be more hygienic than hot food?” they question in defence of street food. Darshan, a resident of J C Road, has been eating from roadside vendors for years now. He says it’s not just cheap but fresh as well. “I have always wished that the government do something for these people who so sincerely prepare fresh food. There’s no serving stale stuff. I am sure they earn much more than a small time hotelier,” he reasons.

Anitha Kumar, a techie with a leading IT firm in the City says she frequents the Kabab on Wheels on Mosque Road, only to eat the Chinese fried rice and chicken kababs. “The taste doesn’t match that of an expensive restaurant. It’s the raw taste that stays in your mouth long after you have eaten. There is something special about they way it’s made,” she says.

For Premjit Singh, a technical manager with Aris Global, street food was the only option after a late night movie. “I love the Chinese food on these mobile carts. The taste is distinct and if you don’t really care about the hygiene bit, then street food is the way to go,” says Premjit. Benita Shome, an IT professional has experimented with street food in the City and was left unhappy, “Coming from Kolkata where street food  is a rage, I find the street food here totally tasteless. But I occasionally indulge in pani puri,” she says.

The government says they’re taking all measures to make lives easier for these roadside vendors. Commissioner BBMP Bharat Lal Meena says that they have begun acting on the Centre’s directive. “We have commissioned officers to mark out areas in the City that could be dedicated to vendors. It will take some time before we finalise the areas,” he says and adds, “we are exploring areas like the K R Market, Jayanagar and Basavanagudi where the number of vendors are more.”

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