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A Wholesome mess that's Koyambedu market

Vendors and traders at the Koyambedu Wholesale Market complex lament running a small business in a place that lacks basic utilities like clean toilets and a fully functional drinking water facility.

A Wholesome mess thats Koyambedu market

CHENNAI: Being the biggest wholesale market in Asia for perishable commodities, Koyambedu Wholesale Market complex is dirty, messy, and chaotic on any given day. Added to that is the unbearable stench of rotting vegetables, fruits and flowers, free-flowing drains and water stagnation, the market, which is a source of livelihood for hundreds of traders and caters to thousands more with its perishables, has been a nightmare to step foot into ever since it opened in 1996.

Toilets are often sealed off for ‘maintenance work’

Despite highlighting these problems to several people in positions of power for many years, the market has been largely ignored and issues remian unresolved.

Public urination is a common sight at the market

Lack of basic utilities

S Muthukumar, a semi-wholesale trader at market, laments, “There are no basic amenities. The toilets stink, look messy, and the tiles have not changed ever since the market opened 25 years ago. We’ve asked the management committee to build new toilets several times. Even though the State government allocated Rs 18 crore for constructing washrooms, the management has not taken any steps.”

Traders worry that such situations lead to various health issues. Many vendors left the market as they couldn’t survive due to lack of basic amenities.

Though there is water connection given to the market, it cannot be used for drinking purposes. Traders asked for Metro Water connection, as they had to spend at least Rs 150-200/day to buy water.

“A shop needs 5-6 cans of drinking water every day. Already the pandemic-induced lockdown was horrible, and there’s no brisk sale in the market even now. We’re forced to spend Rs 200/day for water. How can we afford Rs 6,000 every month on water alone? This situation has not changed from the beginning,” rues R Prabhakaran, another trader at the market.

No dearth of encroachments

One the major problems faced by licenced traders that impacts their business is the encroachments by illegal vendors. “Public don’t visit inside the market as they purchase from these unauthorised vendors. The Market Management Committee is addressing the issue and clearing the shops immediately, but after a day or two, another set of retailers occupies the place,” avers Sukumaran, secretary, Koyambedu Wholesale Market Merchants. “On many occasions, retail vendors have spotted tipplers littering the area, and they even urinate there.”

Though the Market Management Committee is taking steps to resolve garbage issues, and water stagnation, traders have requested the committee to include them as members to resolve them soon.

Along with traders, the communist party members have also been struggling for years to bring basic amenities that are functional and maintained well.

“These traders work from 2 am till evening every day, and they don’t have a restroom. It’s the most basic requirement. In Tamil Nadu, the concerned department does not provide even the most basic facilities for labourers. But for those who work for a few hours are given all services including toilets and restroom,” rues G Selva, CPM, Central Chennai district secretary. He adds that the State government is taking efforts to beautify the Chennai city but has failed to provide basic amenities for workers. “The government lacks in giving attention to these serious problems faced by laborers,” points out Selva.

A den for health issues

Unhygienic washrooms and unclean drinking water facilities at the market is a prime place for several health issues to crop up. Also, with COVID cases continuing to surge in the city, having a clean toilet is need of the hour.

“Those using unhygienic washrooms will face serious health issues including infections and fever, which will later cause severe problems, including organ damage too. Even traders from other states and districts travel to this market. Water-borne disease can be communicable,” explains Dr Narendra Nath Jena, senior consultant and HoD-Emergency Medicine, Meenakshi Mission Hospital and Research Centre, Madurai.

Any infection would spread faster when traders and customers, especially senior citizens and children, use common toilets. “When traders work for over 12 hours a day without proper rest, this piles on the stress and there won’t be quality of life. Setting up a proper functional restroom is the first step in having clean amenities at the market,” adds Dr Narendra.

DT Next reached out to the office of chief administrative officer of the market management committee, CMDA, for reaction but the effort proved futile.

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Swedha Radhakrishnan
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