Pushcart vendors selling delicious dishes in a variety of cuisines can be found on the streets of every Indian town.
But consuming these dishes can be hard on the stomach, because of the low standards of hygiene these vendors have.
A recent Health Ministry survey in 16 cities has found 90 per cent of street food unsafe for consumption.
All that may change once two major schemes the government is planning are implemented.
The first is called the 'Safe Food Town' scheme, which will lay down standards for food vendors in 50 cities of the country, insist on quality upgradation and capacity building.
"It is proposed to introduce 2000 to 5000 modern food carts in identified cities leading to the upgradation of at least 50,000 food-vending carts during the 11th five year plan", the ministry of food processing industry said in a report titled 'Strengthening the food processing sector', submitted recently to the National Manufacturing Competitive Council (NMCC).
The scheme will be operated through designated implementing agencies (IAs). The IAs will be eligible for 10 per cent subsidy on the costs they incur. The cart costs around Rs 30,000, and financial assistance at the rate of 25 per cent per cart will be made available to vendors.
The ministry said the IAs would need to have considerable experience and expertise in food processing since they would be responsible for training street vendors to adopt clean practices.
"They will also be accountable for maintaining standards, stakeholder consultation, certification, licensing, accreditation and follow-up”, said a ministry source.
The outlay for the scheme during the plan period is pegged at Rs 52.5 crore.
The other scheme called the 'Food Corner Scheme' is aimed at setting up one quality 'food street' in 25 select cities of the country.
"The food street, drawing from the cusine traditions of the city, will be developed as an attractive destination for tourists and others," the ministry official said.
At the rate of Rs 5 crore for each food street, the cost of putting up 25 food streets will be Rs 125 crore.
According to a study conducted by the National Association of Street Vendors of India (NASVI) in 2000, Mumbai has the largest number of street vendors numbering around 2,50,000, followed by Delhi with 2,00,000, and Kolkata with 1,50,000.
Ahmedabad and Patna each have around 100,000 and Indore, Bangalore and Bhubaneshwar have around 30,000 vendors. But the entire sector remains completely unregulated so far.