BBD Bagh, the acronym for Benoy Badal Dinesh Bagh here, is not only the seat of power of West Bengal government and the central business district, but also an open air restaurant in the afternoons.
The pavements of BBD Bagh, which is named after the three freedom fighters who shot dead Inspector General of Prisons N. S. Simpson at the Writers’ Buildings of the then Dalhousie square on December 8, 1930, are thronged by employees from offices that surround the imposing square each afternoon.
Customers have a large choice from the humble puffed rice seasoned with onions, chillies and groundnuts, to rice and fish or mutton curry to south Indian specialities dosa, idli and vada and even Chinese like noodles, fried rice Manchurian and chilly paneer.
“I eat here regularly, not out of choice, but out of compulsion,” says Saloni, a student who eats every day at the pavement food stalls in the square.
“But, I won’t be wrong if I say that the menu offered in these shops is far more extensive than any multi—cuisine restaurant,” she says.
The pavements shops abound around State secretariat Writer’s Building, the Tea Board of India, Bankshall Court, Jewish Church and Fairlie Ghat all around the square.
The meals range from as little as Rs. 6 to Rs. 25 which suits every pocket. “We get different kinds of food here very cheap,” agrees Sandeep of Gillander House.
Asked whether the food was hygienic, Khan, an HSBC Bank employee says, “I’ve been surviving on this food for the last 20 years and nothing has ever happened to me.”
Some like an elderly employee of Indian Bank who only buys fruits from the pavements, says, “Why should I eat here when I get better food for Rs. 10 at the office canteen“.
A vendor, Lakhi Kanta Giri, who is a member of a union of food stall owners, Sangrami Karmi Union, says, “We prepare fresh food with proper ingredients. We also keep the food covered after cooking.”
Asked about his earnings, the vendors said it varied between Rs. 2,500 a month to Rs. 3,500. The shops are closed on Sundays.
The prise rise has hit the vendors too.
“The prices of bread and butter have gone up, so I increased the price too,” says Uttam Mondal, who has been selling bread and sandwiches outside Bankshall Court since 1982.