The common man’s subsistence-level markets are a picture of neglect. DT Next takes a stroll to get you the real situation.
Many markets in the city and suburbs are on the losing side of the bargain in terms of cleanliness and safety. Residents are increasingly concerned about the plight of the markets as they make regular trips to these bustling commercial centres to get essentials, vegetables and all other commodities.
E Anand Kumar, a resident of Saidapet, has been a regular at the Abdul Razak Market for the last three decades. While the quality of the products is never in question, he is wary of making the trip.
Nonetheless, he visits the market every Sunday, without fail. “It is just 10 minutes from home and is the most convenient option for weekly purchase. But the market is extremely inaccessible, and cleanliness is an issue that needs to be addressed immediately.”
Another resident D Tamil Selvan, who has been a regular visitor, dreads visiting it on a Sunday. “I went to the market and it was a Herculean task to make my way through it. To make it more difficult, there is no parking space and vendors on the pavements make it impossible for even two people to walk side by side,” he said.
Tamil Selvan added that the Corporation had evicted vendors from the pavements to provide space for customers a few months ago. “That made it easier to move around the market, but they are all back again at the same spot,” he said.
Mirsahibpet Market (Photo: Justin George)
The market with nearly 300 shops was proposed to be upgraded to “world class” a few years ago. However, the project has not taken off yet. Vendors say that when Saidai Duraisamy was the Mayor, there were talks of Rs 20 crore being allotted for this. “but it didn’t materialise because of the 2015 floods and the subsequent changes in the government and leaders,” said T Bhaskar, treasurer, Abdul Razzak Vendors Association.
R Sundaram, who has had his vegetable stall in the market for over five decades now, said that with no drainage system in place, the market with narrow lanes ends up in a mess after every rain. “We are knee deep in water after rain. On Sundays, when there is more crowd, they park their vehicles on Jones Road and the resultant chaos adds to the existing issues,” he pointed out.
Regular customers also observe the lack of safety measures in place, apart from hygiene issues. “Especially the meat stalls where they don’t seem to be following any measures to ensure safe disposal,” added Tamil Selvan.
Where time stands still Royapettah has hosted many markets like the former Pulibonu Bazaar and Zam Baazar and the century old Mirsahibpet is, one of the remnants of the locality’s rich history. However, a first-time visit can shock you — with crumbling roofs and unhygienic conditions, the market has more than 50 stalls.
“We are in dire need of a revamp. We have been telling the owner to rebuild some structures so that it can withstand the vagaries of nature,” said Parthsarathy, a vendor and secretary of the Mirsahibpet Market Vendors Association.
The vendors also point to the abysmal condition of the fish stalls, where mosquitoes and flies buzz and flit around the eddies of light. “This is the actual cause of malaria in this locality,” pointed out a vendor from the nearby vegetable section. The vendors claim that they have been carrying out minor repairs in the shops for their own safety. “The owner sits in Broadway and collects rent from us. But there are no facilities provided for the rent we pay,” said one of them.
Back in Saidapet, the entry of supermarkets in the area and petty shops across the neighbourhood has killed their business.
Pukhraj, a trader from Park Town who has been owning the market for 35 years now, said that a revamp would be possible only if the vendors vacate. “Though the business is low, and many stalls are unoccupied, the vendors are unwilling to let the shops be let out to someone else. They are in shambles and there are barely any hygiene measures taken, but I am struggling to convince them. This place cannot be sold and half the time, I get no rent from many of the vendors,” said Pukhraj.
Corporation keeps a distance While the Greater Chennai Corporation officials have indicated that utmost care is taken to ensure that the markets are clean, a Zone 9 official admitted that frequent checks were not conducted inside the Mirsahibpet market to inspect the condition. “We will raid them to ensure that there is no breeding ground for diseases and infections inside them,” the source added.
A senior official said that there were no plans to modernise or revamp the market as of now. “The collection of garbage is done periodically through the day to ensure there is no accumulation,” added the source.
Jawaharlal Shanmugam, social activist, and public interest litigant, who has been batting for fire safety measures across hospitals, said any case of fire would spell doom. “Apart from fire, the smoke and stampedes are more dangerous,” he said.
A tale of the city markets Markets in the city find their origin in 1768, when the Chepauk Palace was built by Nawab of Arcot, said writer-historian V Sriram. “A number of Muslim noblemen settled in and around Triplicane and markets were soon established in the late 19th century. The Zam Bazaar was one of the first, apart from Sultan Market and another called Pulibonu Market where a tiger was kept in a cage. But according to records, the first is the one on Broadway in 1789, which was in operation till 1865,” he added. Mirsahebpet is almost 120 years old. Though there are no records, it is believed that the market is named after a Muslim nobleman as suggested by the name Mir, which is a title given for aristocracy. The Saidapet market is a relatively newer one that is about 70 years old, according to some of the long-time vendors operating in it. There are 293 shops, with 51 permanent stalls.