A move against street foodA blanket ban on all street vendors and painting all with the same brush does seem unjustifiable.
With the number of cholera cases on the rise, Lalitpur Metropolitan City has announced a complete ban on roadside sales of savouries such as panipuri and chatpate in a bid to control the spread of the disease. Undoubtedly, the prohibition was influenced by hygiene considerations following a surge in the incidence of the dreaded cholera which is highly contagious and can cause death. But to put a blanket ban on all street vendors and painting all with the same brush does seem unjustifiable. While the quality of street food may be questionable, making an example of only street vendors is unnecessary.
While, on the one hand, it is laudable that Lalitpur Metropolitan City has taken measures to prevent a possible health crisis, the course of action it has resorted to, on the other, has drawn unwarranted attention. The Lalitpur city police chief’s apprehension lies in the claim that street vendors use tap water to prepare panipuri and chatpate, and tap water in the valley can hardly be called safe to drink. By the same token, shouldn’t the ban apply to all eateries that use tap water to prepare their delicacies?
The blanket ban on street vendors shows that the city council, like all government mechanisms looking to be seen as effective, find easy targets generally in the feeble and the non-unionised. If measures have to be taken, then the seriousness of purpose should not just be reflected in isolating the voiceless street vendors. Steps should be taken to improve the hygiene levels of street food and the entire business that caters to outdoor eating. Food and hygiene inspections should be regular, and those caught flouting the rules should be penalised.
A ban also means loss of livelihood for the vendors that rely on daily wages. Instead of knee-jerk reactions like this, perhaps matters could be handled with sensitivity. It is the authorities’ job to provide clean drinking water, but moving against vendors who would undoubtedly cut corners given the opportunity to earn an extra buck comes across as hypocritical. Hence, before the authorities decide to come down heavily on the vendors for their substandard products, the authorities need to scale up the quality of the services they provide
The current health scare enveloping Kathmandu Valley, however bleak, should be taken as an opportunity to clean up our act and plug the loopholes that allow unscrupulous vendors to take advantage of the government’s lack of attention to lifting hygiene standards. But measures should be taken in a justifiable manner that helps the business improve its service. The city should not move in a way that constitutes an attack on some while sparing others.