The reduction in the number of shops from 3,941 in Koyambedu to 194 in Thirumazhisai has also resulted in job losses for many vendors.

Market vendors in Chennai struggle with losses due to shift from KoyambeduFile image/PTI
Coronavirus Coronavirus Tuesday, May 19, 2020 - 12:06

Vendors of the makeshift Thirumazhisai market are distressed over falling revenues as fewer people are visiting the market, which is located at a distance from Chennai. The lack of proper shelter, as well as a shortage of labourers to support them with the logistics, has added to the worries of vendors.

The Thirumazhisai market was inaugurated on May 10 as Asia’s largest Koyambedu market turned into a hotspot for coronavirus infection. From the time the Thirumazhisai market was inaugurated, vendors haven’t seen sales pick up, and are urging for the Koyambedu market to be reopened soon.

According to the members of the Koyambedu Market Association, around 3,941 shops were functional in Koyambedu. Right now, 194 shops are currently running in Thirumazhisai.

“The reduction in the number of shops has resulted in job losses for many vendors. More than 20,000 people depended on the Koyambedu market and now most of them are unemployed. The unemployed vendors are calling and asking me how they can lead their lives without a job. They are telling me to urge the government to reopen the shops or they have no other option but to take adverse decisions,” says Thyagarajan, president of Koyambedu Vegetables, Fruits and Flowers Merchants Association.

Challenges have mounted even for people working in the Thirumazhisai market. According to vendors, footfalls have been less.

Chandran, a Koyambedu market trader says, “Customers came even from Dindigul to buy from Koyambedu, but now since the news of Koyambedu cluster is everywhere, people aren’t coming from other districts. We see less than half the crowd at Thirumazhisai as opposed to Koyambedu, due to which our income has reduced. We have almost lost our livelihood and we do not know what to do.”

Chandran says that as the produce is not being sold, they have to leave it on the ground at that very location as they do not have storage space for the fruits and vegetables. “Hence, the duration of the freshness of vegetables reduces and we are also scared that there could be theft,” Chandran adds.

Lack of shelter forces people to travel to Chennai city

The workforce of the Koyambedu market consists of labourers from Chennai, other districts in Tamil Nadu and people from other states. Many of these labourers have returned to their native place following the coronavirus outbreak and later, Koyambedu emerging as a cluster. Without the required labourers, vendors are left without the logistical help.

However, even the few labourers from Chennai are struggling without a place to stay near the Thirumazhisai market.

“The Koyambedu market was always buzzing with activity and it was situated in an important part of the city. The workers also had a building for themselves so they were able to rest. But Thirumazhisai is just the opposite, the market appears to have been located inside a forest and there are no rooms nearby,” says Thyagarajan.

The temporary market set up within a week has basic facilities including restrooms and water. However, vendors and helpers are returning to the city to refresh and sleep.

“Many workers reach Thirumazhisai early in the morning as trucks start coming in. Once the loads are received and arranged, the helpers used to take rest at Koyambedu, but here, the lack of shelters is tiring people. Heat emanates from the temporary roofs from 7 am and there is a lot of dust. Hence we are unable to stay here. So we are booking rooms and making them stay within the city,” says Chandran.

Adding to the woes of the vendors, on May 13, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister accused the Koyambedu market vendors of refusing to shift the market as the reason for the spike of COVID-19 cases in Chennai.

"The reason for the spike is mainly because of the pavement encroachers who were occupying the places without keeping social distancing in mind," says Thyagarajan. He adds that authorities could have acted strongly against them so that Koyambedu did not become a cluster, and had they done so, they would not have this problem on their hands.

Stating that the mistake was with the customers, Chandran says, “We accepted the conditions put by the government but there was a lot of confusion. No one was able to control the public and the sudden 4-day lockdown made more people rush to the markets,” he says. “However, I do not say that it is the complete reason for the spread but I can only say the mistake was with the people and not the vendors.”

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