Business: Travellers along the Trashigang-Pam highway usually make a brief stop at the Kheri junction for a quick bite of street food.

Roadside food vendors selling momos, sel roti and jalebis remain busy from the early morning hours until late in the evening. The vendors are making use of a permanent shelter meant for travellers waiting for transportation.

These vendors, all women come from low income families. Budhi Maya, a vendor earns as much as Nu 1,500 a day. For a mother of three, selling food along the roadsides has become vital for survival.

“My husband left for his village and hardly cares about us. For the last one year, I am running the family with what I earn here,” she said. Left with no other option, she took it over from her sister when she left for another dzongkhag.

In the past, the first few vendors would sell food in Trashigang town (Mithidrang). Given that selling food on the streets raises issues related to hygiene, sanitation and littering, concerned authorities intervened and they resorted to doing business along the highway.

“Because there are five vendors selling at the junction, we have a routine to follow. We sell our food on alternate days,” she said. “While some of us sell vegetable momos, others sell beef momos. So, we have rules we adhere to besides maintaining sanitation and hygiene.”

However, with the Yadi-Kheri highway undergoing widening works, chances of the permanent shelter being dismantled is very high. This is worrying the vendors.

Sonam Zangmo, another vendor said they are planning to seek support from the dzongkhag administration for possibilities of constructing food stalls.

“If the existing shelter is dismantled, there is no other place from where we can function. With problems posed by rain and dust, we would need a proper place,” she said. “We have heard of support provided to the street vendors in Thimphu. It would immensely benefit us if the dzongkhag could designate some space and provide similar stalls.”

Trashigang Dzongdag Lungten Dorji said the dzongkhag administration allowed the vendors to operate from the junction for some time taking into consideration their economic backgrounds.

“On one hand, the number of street vendors is increasing while on the other, there is a huge concern for sanitation and hygiene,” he said. “Hence, we have asked BAFRA officials to regulate and monitor these vendors in maintaining proper hygiene.”

In case of constructing the stalls, he said they need to first look at how the road develops. Kheri junction is a congested space and the permanent shelter could be dismantled when the road is widened.

“There are also rules to follow like the road’s right of way that prohibits any construction within 50 feet from the road. Although we don’t have plans to construct stalls for now, we would see what can be done in future,” Lungten Dorji said.

Meanwhile, BAFRA officials said they are strictly monitoring the hygiene aspect. Kitchen sanitation, possession of food handler’s license and observing health of the vendors are few activities they take up frequently.

“At the site where they sell food, we have fast testing kits to test food items. We also keep watch on whether they are using plastic gloves and forceps among others as advised,” Regulatory and Quarantine Inspector, Tashi said.

According to BAFRA, there are currently ten licensed food vendors operating in the dzongkhag.

Tshering Wangdi | Trashigang