Wednesday, March 18, 2009

How "green" is our bazaar?

The only reason to ask the question 'How "green" is our Bazaar?' is that so many of us who have replaced the traditional bazaar in our lives with the contemporary mall and who shop once a week at the 'Fruits & Vegetables' sections of SPAR, or Reliance Mart or Food World, believe that we have little choice, since the old bazaars of the city are dirty, unhygienic and congested places.

The city's fruit and vegetable markets may not be today's ideal urban selling spaces but they have been environments that are more respectful of resource use and have also been patterns of development that have had sustainable characteristics. Therefore, we need to be more aware of how green the bazaar is and why. Simultaneously, we can start working on how to make it easier for the vendors or the municipal authorities to keep our bazaars cleaner and more hygienic.
Inside the Poorna Market at Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh

If we were to look for what is "green" in the Indian bazaar, this is what one observes :
1. Containers of the flowers being sold at Poorna market in Visakhapatnam are mostly bamboo baskets.
2. Shopping bags are still either cloth bags, recycled plastic bags and recycled rice jute bags
3. The roofing provided in an open marketplace to provide shade from the sun is often jute fabric.

It is not that plastic has not entered the market here. However, the people have not yet given up completely on using the cloth or the jute bag to shop for vegetables. At a city supermarket in India, it is less common to see the use of these bags because it is easier for the supermarket to pack and bind the commodities in their own plastic bags at the billing counters, to be checked once again by the security as you exit, in order to prevent pilferage.

The shelter for the vegetable stalls in many towns and cities in India are palmyra umbrellas. It is also common to see shelters made with casuarina poles and canvas sheets as at the Weekly market in Theni

As shown below, in our vegetable stalls, we have always used small bamboo baskets for choosing the vegetables we want to buy and handing them over to the vendor to have them weighed.

In the image below, this lady caters to the vendors in the bazaar, who buy large baskets for holding the produce for sale and the small baskets for customers to pick up their fruits and vegetables for purchase. When one looks at the different markets in small and large towns and cities, one finds that there are many livelihoods in a bazaar that depend upon one another and together make way for an ecological approach to living.

Of course, these are only the visible options that confirm that products and processes in our traditional bazaars have always sought environment-friendly solutions. We have yet to study how producing, transporting and consuming food can be responsible for climate change and for polluting our environment. For instance, buying directly from producers, as in the Rythu Bazaars of Andhra Pradesh may be a good way to source fresh, seasonal produce and reduce packaging. Making fewer shopping trips by car to the Supermarket may also help reduce congestion and local air pollution. We could avoid unnecessary or excessive packaging of fruits and vegetables and help reduce the waste we generate whilst shopping for our food.

Coming back to our need for a cleaner & more hygienic bazaar, a few days ago, i was outside the Russell Market, one of Bangalore's oldest fruit and vegetable markets. There was a truck from the Municipality that was loading the garbage to be taken away. It was parked in a side lane, just outside the side entrance to the market. This side lane seemed like a lane devoted entirely to the garbage of Russell market. The carting away of the waste from the market is done two times every day. The truck picks up garbage once at seven in the morning and a second time at two-thirty in the afternoon. This is taken away to a garbage dump yard at Devanahalli.

Some questions come to mind here :
How do we better the working conditions of the men who take away the garbage?
How can the process of moving the garbage from where it is disposed by the vendors to its place in the truck be improved so that there is less litter and a cleaner environment surrounds the market entrance and exits?
What happens to the garbage after it reaches the dump yard at Devanahalli? Is the organic waste from the bazaars of Bangalore being converted into vermicompost?

In the summer, when the mangoes arrive into the city, they are unloaded for sale in the wholesale and retail markets.
After the unloading of the mangoes has been done, the truck leaves the market and the hay remains there much longer than it should. It is in these minor details of the day-to-day functioning of the bazaar, where interventions by the municipal authorities to enforce cleanliness would be useful.

This flower market at Georgetown in Chennai is a typical example of a a street bazaar in South India. It may be true that our fruit, vegetable and flower markets are often unclean, unhygienic and crowded places compared to a SPAR or a Reliance Mart outlet. We could work towards understanding the sanitation regulations, the drainage systems, the increasing vehicular traffic and the need for parking facilities. Supposing we study Food World or SPAR's efficient back-end operations and see how much of it we can use in our bazaars, maybe we can improve upon them a bit?

I welcome all thoughts/comments on how our bazaars could be made cleaner and more hygienic.

p.s. At the Hampi Conservation Conference early this year, an observation by a Dutch photographer who is a resident of Hampi : "India has a real problem about garbage. Maybe it has perhaps something to do with the caste system, where people think low of someone who thinks about garbage or would do something about garbage".

Read about :
Dadar Flower Market, Mumbai
Fish market at Sasoon docks
The Informal Economy and Urban space
Gandhi Bazaar, Bangalore


Elizabeth said...

A beautiful post.
We have recently returned from a visit to India and were stunned by the beauty and variety of sights to see.

Anonymous said...

Oh! Recently Walmart and Woodmans in the US have started selling eco-friendly cloth bags...the catch is you have to take it everytime you go to the store to buy stuff :)

I had read an article some time back on the "un-organized" retail in India and the losses to fresh food that it entails...

setting up a supply chain backbone to the local bazaars is a win-win project :p Wonder who will take it up

kiran said...

Elizabeth : Thankyou for leaving a comment. I wondered if you visited some of the bazaars too and what the experience was for you.

Kaushik : I guess here, we are still making the transition from cloth/jute to plastic and from un-organized to organized and I wonder if we as customers question what we do, we could strike a good balance between our seemingly chaotic, but sustainable systems and the western orderly ways? Maybe, a good beginning would be to document what our systems have been until now in the bazaar environment. And then, we could compare and improvise perhaps.

For instance, the supply chain backbone for the bazaar has always existed. One is not sure how much it has been studied. If this knowledge can be shared and made available to many more people, I'm sure more of us would want to work towards supporting a contemporary Indian bazaar that works, that's clean, that's hygienic and that has much of the charm that bazaars have always had.

Sunil Deepak said...

Very interesting and thought provoking. Thanks.

Traditional markets are in danger every where from malls. I would have thought that with door to door service of subjiwallas in India, even if some people may have shifted to malls, for majority of persons bazara continue to be the cost effective solution. I don't think they do it for conservation or sustainable development or safe-guarding the interests of the poor, they do it because it works and is cheaper. I agree completely that promoting education on hygeine and cleanliness among sellers and buyers could be useful.

Thinking of exotification of traditions for tourists and rich middle/ipper class as with Dillihaat in Delhi, is another route. What do you feel about that?

kiran said...

Sunil : I guess you are right that if the subjiwallah continues to have business or if the bazaar continues to exist, it is because it works, is convenient and a cost-effective solution.

I do think tourism for particular bazaars would help preserve these traditional shopping environments. For example, the Lad Bazaar near Charminar in Hyderabad would be a great place to work towards this. There was a proposal for the 'Revitalisation of the Lad Bazaar' few years ago that also looked at extensive pedestrianisation of the area. It is quite an effort for the government and the planners to ensure that all the stakeholders - the vendors, the customers, the traffic authorities and so on are on the same platform and able to function well within the new framework that is developed.

One notices that often bazaars within city centres also have a historic monument nearby or a religious place of workship, which makes it so much easier to work on a "bazaar tour" concept in that region, for example, Russell market in Bangalore has on the same street, the St.Mary's Basilica, which is anyway frequented by many people everyday and more so on special days. So, adding a few facilities for visitors/tourists such as good, clean restaurants, cafetarias, souvenir shops and toilets to the area could perhaps support bazaar tourism.

Dhananjay said...

The textures of Bangalore’s markets have been captured and compiled by the Bangalore Photography Club in “Bengaluru Mandis” a Coffee Table Book.


kiran said...

Dhananjay, thanks for the link!