India's Supreme Court has proposed a ban on hawkers (street vendors) who
cook food at roadside stalls in New Delhi - a city famed for the hot, spicy snacks available on its pavements. Anjana Pasricha reports from the Indian capital that residents have reacted with dismay.
It is lunchtime on a cold winter day, and dozens of hungry people have drifted out of their offices in Delhi for a hot snack.
They do not have to go far, hawkers are preparing a range of culinary delights along a tiny road tucked between two office blocks in the heart of the city. On offer are deep fried dumplings known as samosas, a popular spicy dish called chaat, and stuffed Indian breads known as parathas.
But these street-side treats may soon be a thing of the past if a recent proposal of the Supreme Court is enforced. As part of a long study of urban reform with other organizations, the Supreme Court says street vendors will be confined to small pockets of the city. They will have to cook the food they sell at home, and serve it pre-packed to customers.
The proposal is a bid to clean up the Indian capital's streets, which are dotted with hawkers.
The suggestion has not gone down well with residents, whether they are students, office workers, housewives or migrant laborers.
A dietitian, Preeti Aggarwal, is enjoying the treats with her husband and three-year-old son. She wails at the thought of not being able to have a spicy plate of chaat at a roadside stall.
"We feel like body without soul. We [are] born in this country. We really enjoy, we really relish chaat and all, our system is used to this," she said.
Indeed, customers here have enjoyed food prepared in front of their eyes for years. Most of them are like Jaskaran Singh Saidana, who swears allegiance to the stalls, calling their food mouth-watering, affordable and hygienic.
"Pau bhaji [a potato and vegetable dish] and all we can't have in shops. They are very much [more] expensive [than] from the stalls. They are not very tasty also as we get in these stalls." said Saidana. "We don't know what they are doing in kitchens. This thing they are cooking in front of me, for me this is hygienic."
These roadside stalls are not just favored by the middle class. They are also frequented by tens of thousands of migrant workers such as Tilak Bist.
Bist says it is possible for him to have a meal at these stalls for just a few rupees (a quarter of a dollar). He says moving these hawkers will hurt low-income earners like him.
Those threatened with closure are also at a loss. Many stalls have been in the same family for generations. Bunty Singh says he knows no other business than deftly cutting fruit, squeezing it with lemon, and topping it up with special spices to make it more palatable for Indians.
Singh says his business will suffer if the proposal is implemented. He says customers will not buy packaged fruit chaat, because they will doubt it is fresh.
So far there is no official reaction to the Supreme Court proposal. Nevertheless, residents Raj and her husband Vishal Mirchandani are getting ready for the worst.
The couple says they have come for a last snack because they fear the stalls might disappear any time.
Delhi residents have good reason to feel nostalgic. Even guidebooks direct tourists to the city's historic old Delhi neighborhood to sample the roadside pan-fried parathas (Indian bread) as an essential part of the Indian experience.