Sunday, September 14, 2008


The eternal patience and tolerance, in a country where Hindu, Buddhist and Jain philosophy converged hundreds of years ago, allow freedom to its citizens to do what ever is ethical and unobtrusive to others in the society. With the political system presently being practiced in the country often creating desperation and frustration amongst  peaceful citizens, the country is slowly loosing its bearings regarding its future. It is a common trait to see things crumbling before the eyes and even a small gain gets amplified several fold, forgetting that tons of opportunities have already been lost for ever because of short sightedness and lack of vision amongst the ruling elite, setting the country backward in its quest for peace and prosperity. 
'Regularization' is a buzz word for any thing done wrongfully, mocking the law of the country and squandering public money and resources. Be it encroachment or land grabbing or violence or any other deeds not in consonance with societal norms, they are easily condoned/accommodated without allowing the law to take its course. The recent massive write off in case of agricultural loans or paying public money for sectarian purpose or provision of Non Productive Assets(NPA) in the banking system to write off loans to influential persons, all reflect the great libertarian philosophy of the country.
One may wonder what this has to do with street vending. If considered dispassionately street vendors grossly violate the basic principle that streets are not meant to do business as it is public facility for the citizens to be mobile without hindrance. More over food is not meant to be cooked or served in the open for safety reasons. In early nineties a study in Penang, Malaysia clearly brought out the dangers of road side vending when the foods served were found to contain high traces of lead and other elements from the automobile exhausts. Of course lead may not be a problem to day as it has since been eliminated from the gasoline. There are also other issues such as microbial contamination from the atmosphere, from dirty storage vessels and inadequately cleaned serving plates.  That apart, how can one justify allowing hawkers to set up their business on the road side while organized business has to face a maze of restrictions under the
licensing regime? Now that street vending has caught the fancy of some people, it has become a fashionable topic for discussion even amongst scientists who want to make the 'street foods' safer, giving it a honorable place forgetting that 'regularizing' such violation in already congested urban areas will attract more vendors and more logistical problems.
Attempts have been made to design more hygienic vending booths to safeguard the health of the consumers but without clean water for preparation, washing and other purposes such efforts are not likely to bring about any dramatic changes in the system. The lack of data regarding incidences of food borne diseases amongst the consumers of street foods, with both short as well as long term consequences, does not mean any thing because many people take in their strides any minor physical discomforts inside the belly caused by such foods without reporting. The latest initiative by the Ministry of Food Processing Industry, GOI to give brand equity to such foods by sponsoring them, is only misconceived and in stead alternatives will have to be found to rehabilitate the vendors as a societal service. A possible solution could be earmarking some areas in the urban areas for food courts where all facilities are provided and a safety monitoring system is put
in place. These facilities should include safe running water, power at low tariffs, provision for utensil washing, waste disposal without generating foul smell and hygienic toilets. If such food courts are established, street vending could be totally banned giving the vast majority of the citizens respite from congested streets for which they will be grateful. .  

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