The unusual scene has the rusting and nearly dilapidated street food carts stuck in the medians and roadsides in the city's Shahbagh area. Those acquainted with the episode from the beginning find themselves to be witness to a project's being struck by a bolt from the blue. It has hit hygienic snacks for the city people visiting the area. A year ago, the mobile food stalls were brought to the place with the aim of treating clients to popular local snacks, as well as safe fast food. The neatly painted, smart-looking vans were specially made for entrepreneurs willing to do business on small capital. The venture was different from conventional selling of street foods, which has no provisions for checking and surveillance. Hygiene and cleanliness were to be the two prerequisites for the business.
The initiative was undertaken by Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) in partnership with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Initially, 300 carts were prepared for commercial distribution among interested small entrepreneurs. In the first phase, 80 persons were trained in hygienic food making, preparation and serving. After the ceremonial inauguration in April 2016, a number of the vans were seen starting their business at Shahbagh. People fond of eating out and having a special liking for street foods were found crowding around the tastefully decorated carts. All this was short-lived, as the authorities concerned reportedly found the vans to be posing a security threat. On the grounds of the area's sensitive nature, the food carts' free movement was made to discontinue.
The mobile food vans have been out of operation since the official order of prohibition. Negotiations have been said to be on to arrive at a solution, so that the all-important security concerns are not compromised and the commercial interests of the entrepreneurs are upheld.
The future of the DSCC food carts, for now, is in limbo. Meanwhile, the street food lovers may consider themselves as being deprived of an opportunity to eat their favourite items. They include the uniquely Dhaka-based 'Chatpoti-Phoochka', kebabs-chops and deep-fried 'Piajus-Begunis' etc. The so-called Chinese foods were also said to be on the menu. But when it comes to the threat to public security, everything takes a backseat. In fact, before choosing the Shagbagh area as an ideal venue for the mobile food vans, extensive homework should have been carried out. Apart from the volatility of the place in the context of security, the space and shape of the area do not seem proper for the city-dwellers' afternoon or evening strolls. After all, the road passing through the area is a busy one, which remains filled with traffic in the later part of the day. For a venture like this, the authorities ought to have gone for an esplanade-like place.
The present Dhaka can boast of a number of venues that might be turned into recreation centres complete with spectacular snacks joints. Since the whole scenario centres round mobile stalls, which can move from one place to another, a tolerably spacious ground can serve the purpose. Places like the extreme southern part of the Dhaka University campus, Hatirjheel and other such recreational venues could be considered.
Compared to the fast rise in Dhaka's population, the city has few venues to idle time away. Many recreation-loving people feel the need for these places quite acutely. Proper functioning of the DSCC food carts could have made a great difference to this sombre reality of Dhaka. The sight of the food vans rusting away may also make many people sad --- those who were looking forward to tasting hygienic street foods in Dhaka. This city has long earned a proverbial notoriety for its adulterated snacks sold in the open.