Ever since the COVID-19 imposed lockdown has been lifted, the street food venture in the heart of Dimapur city has been thriving. Every evening an encouraging number of mobile food stalls, mostly operated by young Naga entrepreneurs, operate their business across the stretch of City Tower point till the Popular Bakery area. While it created a space for young people and families to enjoy the evening hours over the street food, the footstall owners were making a livelihood. The scene of street food in Nagaland has been unexplored for a long time. The mobile food industry was popularised when some Naga entrepreneurs, especially in Dimapur and Kohima showed up with modified mobile food bikes, vans and trucks.
Concerning the street hawkers/vendors, the Dimapur Commissioner of Police on April 14, 2023 issued an order. Citing that public footpath and roadside vehicle parking areas are being illegally occupied by street hawkers/vendors, especially along Nyamo Lotha Road, New Market, Circular Road and City Tower areas, it had cautioned street hawkers/vendors found to be illegally occupying public footpath and roadside vehicle parking areas shall be removed, as such obstructions and defaulters will be liable for punitive action under relevant provisions with immediate effect. The notice has been served in the interest and safety of the public and for smooth flow of vehicular traffic.
This order has since then drawn different reactions and opinions, especially on the social media platforms. Clearly the food stall owners are now incurring huge financial loses and expressing their grievances. They have stories of running their business for the last 5 to 7 seven years and securing livelihood not just for themselves but also to workers they have employed. Those looking at the whole issue from the angle of local entrepreneurship are in a rage.
Throughout the world, the rise in street food vendors has been attributed to migration from rural to urban areas and growth in rural population. In may Asia countries, a large percentage in Indian cities, street food is an integral part of the people. Frequently neglected and underestimated, street food industry is considered as a profitable trade and vital for the economic growth of the locality. Often it requires a team to complete the street food operation and thus, the employment generation is inevitable. Likewise, the problems and limitations come along as the industries grow bigger. When the food stalls are spread in a central locality, like the City Tower area in Dimapur, and is not meticulously coordinated between the local administrator and the vendors, it will be considered obstruction to urban development and vulnerability to public health.
The case of evicting the street food vendors from the City Tower should lead to more understanding between the vendors and the government. Just because a problem needs to be address does not justify creating problem for the other. Like it or not, street food industry is here to stay. A realistic regulation for the vendors, like allotting a ‘legal’ and permanent space, licensing and ensuring food safety measures can be provided by the government; likewise, the street food operators need to meet the standard of food nutrition and hygiene, maintain the price of the food, etc.
Last week, the Union Health Ministry, in collaboration with the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, has written to the states and Union Territories to develop 100 food streets in 100 districts across the country. The initiative is being taken up as a pilot project to create an example for other such streets to come up across the country to ensure safe and hygienic food practices, the Union Health Ministry said in a statement. According to reports, 11 food streets have been proposed in the North East, four in Assam and one each in Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Sikkim. Financial assistance to the states and Union Territories in the form of Rs 1 crore per Food Street or district will be provided to fill the critical gaps.
As the phenomenon and significance of street food increases, followed by promotion and support from the government, there are lessons to be learned from the incident and discussions over the recent Dimapur Police directives for street hawkers/vendors.
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