For a Monday afternoon, the street market on the service road of Magadi-Chord Road at Vijayanagar in Bengaluru is bustling with activity. Pushcarts, and make-shift stalls sell everything from vegetables and fruits to clothes on either side of the road.
Vehicles navigate unhindered past mid-day shoppers, who haggle with street vendors.
But the hustle and bustle at the junction of 8th Main Road and the Service Road may be a thing of the past, if the proposed Palike Bazaar, a pet project of area MLA and Housing Minister M Krishnappa has his way. Several vendors presently operating in the neighbourhood have been allegedly asked to vacate to make way for the underground AC market that the minister has proposed.
Illegal flex banners dotting the area near the Vijayanagar Metro station announce that the project for the welfare of street vendors is being funded by the CM’s grant
Lack of transparency, no public consultation
Calling the proposed project “unnecessary”, activists question the need for the underground AC market, which will not only displace vendors selling their goods, but will pose an inconvenience to shoppers. Furthermore, they point out that the project, which will come up at the cost of axing many trees in the neighbourhood, also lacks transparency and was proposed without due public consultation.
Minister Krishnappa, however, dismissed these allegations. When asked if public consultation was done, he told TNM, "Everything was done. All these things were discussed. Who are these activists? Somebody is finding stories. This is a three-four years old project. Everything is fine. Some people who don't want this 'beautiful' (market) are saying this. This (market) is for people who have been originally displaced from the other side of the road as per the court order 10 years ago. It is only the additional vendors who are creating trouble."
But the lack of transparency in the process has made activists wary. While one activist pegged the total cost of the project at Rs 18 crore, another activist stated that the figure was at around Rs 5 crore.
“They are refusing to share the Detailed Project Report despite filing RTIs. Since the beginning of December some vendors were asked not to vendor there. Through BBMP officials, I came to know that the cost of the project is close to Rs 5 crore. They said half of the cost would go into shifting the underground electrical and water lines,” said an activist requesting anonymity.
Barricade placed where construction was stopped
Arguing that it was a waste of public money, anti-corruption activist and President of Nagarika Shakti, Narendra Kumar wondered, “Do we need an AC market, when so many other needs are to be fulfilled. What next AC toilets? Ministers flush with illegitimate funds only can think of such frivolous expenses at the cost of taxpayer's money. They could have surely utilised that money for food and water for underprivileged citizens instead.”
‘Why displace thriving micro-economy?’
Given the secrecy shrouding the project, activists fear local vendors may lose their space permanently as the sites may be auctioned or will be asked to pay a sum of money, which they can't afford.
One fruit seller, who was allegedly evicted, said street vendors were not consulted about the project. Questioning the need for the underground AC market, he noted, “We have been here for a long time and we only need some little space to sell our goods,” adding, “Only MPs and MLAs know why Rs 18 crore will be spent.”
But it’s not just vendors and activists who are questioning the need for such a project.
Yogeesh Prabhuswamy, a resident of Vijayanagar and a member of citizen activist group Citizens for Bengaluru argues that the street market in its present avatar is beneficial to the locals.
The market, was set up in the 1980s and was second biggest in the part of the city after KR Market.
“It is actually a very good place and there is no problem for us. During festivities, it looks very beautiful. At those times, the traffic police limits vehicular movement on either side of the market through barricades allowing only two-wheelers,” Yogeesh Prabhuswamy told TNM stating that he is unaware of the Housing Minister’s project.
Yogeesh isn’t alone. Saukim Ghosh, a resident of the area says, “Now it’s very convenient if I want to buy some fruits, I can do that without getting off from my scooter or wait at the counter as I would have to do for a supermarket. Also, the market sells only fresh produce.”
"When there's a thriving micro-economy, benefiting both vendors and consumers, without causing traffic bottlenecks, why is there a need to displace it just to make an AC market?" he added.
Pointing out that the Karnataka government is promoting swanky malls at the cost of the local merchant, Vinay Srinivas, a lawyer with Alternative Law Forum, said, “This is consistent with the trend of the present government encouraging mall culture. Bengaluru used to have very well-functioning BBMP markets, BDA complexes and regular street vendors like those in Jayanagar, Johnson Market and Russel Market worked well. But now the state government is neglecting all three.
Vinay also argued that if the underground AC market comes up, costs will rise for customers and for vendors. “Now they want to pull down these BBMP markets and run BDA complexes in PPP model. On the other hand, malls are growing. They are environmentally destructive, there is so much glass, unnecessary AC and concrete. Also, in private malls, it is much more expensive for shopkeepers to get a shop there. And in the process customers are forced to pay more. Street vendors also provide for the lower middle class and the poor,” said Vinay.