end of a lifeline

Bye bye hot samosas was the the blog I had written some time back when one first heard of the probable banning of all street food in our city. Yesterday the Supreme Court decreed and imposed a ban on all street food.

We often fail to see things unless we have a real reason to. For as long as I remember I have driven past roads in Delhi not quite looking at street food. Lately I have found myself actually doing so and have been amazed by the abundance of what is soon going to disappear: From small road stalls to carts, from samosas to meals via fruits and zingy snacks, the street food culture permeates the very soul of this city! And true to its globalisation efforts we now have Chinese food and burger stalls too! Frankly I cannot begin to imagine the streets without these. It is true that if we look closely at some of these stalls we are compelled to frown at the hygiene standards or the safety norms; however life without them seems a tad sad.

That was nostalgia but the problem does not end there. In my pre project why days street food was that forbidden treat we sought once in a while, but many of us do not realise that for millions in the city it is a lifeline!

At 5 or 10 rupees a plate it is a hot meal for those who do not have families or time to get up and cook. To others it is the sole way of having some fruits or a sweet treat. And to thousands of families it is the much needed income that brings a meal at the end of the day.

It was heartwarming to see that a leading TV channel had launched a campaign to save Delhi's street food on the lines of earlier campaigns to get justice. And the pictures that were aired were those of humble people who candidly defended their right to a meal.

That Delhi is bursting at its seams because of the daily influx of migrants is a reality that no one can overlook, but can one deny the fact that this has happened with the tacit approval of those in power. Swelling vote banks, new causes to defend were all part of a hubristic game and no one saw the writing on the wall.

As numbers grew so did the support network: food stalls, street barbers, cobblers, cycle repair shops et al. And greed broke all bounds: the greed of the politicians who wanted more voters, the greed of the administration who saw more sources of dubious income, the greed of the people who found new shortcuts to earning. Till the day when someone saw red and petitioned the courts.

I cannot but begin to imagine how the new law will be brought into force keeping in mind the host of people that it will affect: livelihood of some, sustenance of the other and above all extra income of yet another. The scenario is quite frightening as no real option seems to have been put in place. The ban on street food will swell the ranks of the unemployed and increase lawlessness. Or will it be a cat and mouse game that will benefit the greedy law enforcers as the fact that street food is available in the remotest recesses of the city makes it easy to move into a grey mode.

All this is yet to be seen, the large issue remains that once again it is the poor that is hit. We will still find ways to fulfill our nostalgic urges as in all likelihood, traditional street food will find new moorings. What will disappear is the hot lunch option that sustains a multitude of people who toil hard in this city and make it a better place for us.