Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Russell Market after the fire

It was on the morning of 25th Feb 2012 that the fire caused severe destruction at the Russell market in Bangalore. As I stood in front of the Russell market two days after the fire, I saw that the outer fa├žade had not been affected and did not show any external signs of damage. I entered the building and looked towards the popular dry fruit shops to the left, but they weren’t there. It was just a black space with people randomly walking about. One half of the market was functioning, in the other half, the shops and goods had been completely burnt down. I had read in the news article Bangalore’s Russell Market gutted in The Hindu that the fire was believed to have been caused by an electrical short circuit and that 174 shops had been damaged.

As I walked further down the market building, there were people cleaning up the debris – wooden poles that were charred, windows that were wrecked, plastic items that had melted into one blackened mass and objects that couldn’t be identified properly anymore. Some people cleared the debris, others stood there watching. The vendors said that the debris had to be cleared away so that life could go on. Some of them had lost goods worth more than a lakh of rupees since they had stocked up for the weekend when sales at Russell market were twice as much as on weekdays. They said they could not wait for the Municipal Corporation to clean up the mess since the Corporation might take 15 days to cart away the debris.

The vendors say that the BBMP - Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike had suggested that this dilapidated and now damaged structure could be demolished completely so that a new shopping complex with basement parking could be built here. The vendors had decided that they would not vacate the premises since they did not want this heritage building to be brought down. Besides, they were not sure how long the Municipal Corporation would take to complete the work and whether the alternative location provided to the vendors in the meantime would be as good as this one. The vendors now planned to reconstruct the shops themselves in as little time as possible so that their business could continue.

There has been an on-going disagreement between the Vendors at Russell market and the Municipal Corporation about rent prices of shops inside the market building, about maintenance of the interior of the building and about garbage disposal. The vendors do not want to pay the rent that the Corporation thinks appropriate and the Corporation therefore has refrained from maintaining the market building or its surroundings. In an earlier blogpost Oral history at Russell market, I have included excerpts from interviews with the vendors and think that understanding their beliefs and their doubts could lead to working out a better urban regeneration plan for the Russell market precinct which may or may not entirely meet their demands but can be implemented successfully if the communication between the stakeholders and the Government improves considerably.

It is seldom that vendors in a fruit and vegetable market in any part of the world have had their demands met by the City corporation and not often that the City knows how to overcome its own difficulties of managing a market in an expanding Inner city core. I wrote about this earlier at Planning for the transition. The vendors’ want better amenities within the market building so that they can have a more efficient workplace as well as better parking facilities so that they do not lose the customer base they have built up over many years. In a city core that gets denser with an increase in population, increase in commercial activity and an increase in traffic congestion, this is usually difficult to solve.

In a Market redevelopment project, a design solution that takes into consideration the functioning of the entire urban precinct enveloping the site of the fruit and vegetable market building may be more appropriate than focusing on a site-specific architectural solution. A bazaar in India usually originates with a market building and grows into several intersecting streets lined with shops and eventually develops into an entire market precinct. For instance, we have the Crawford market in Bombay, Manek chowk in Ahmedabad, the Lad bazaar in Hyderabad and the Russell market in Bangalore. These are the Inner city cores where formal retail and informal retail grow simultaneously and must both be understood so that we can generate an integrated development plan. I wrote earlier about The Informal Economy and Urban space, a post that focuses on the wholesale tomato market outside the Russell market, a temporal marketplace that operates for an intense two hours every morning.

Whilst the fire at Russell market will require that the inside of the building be given adequate attention so that livelihoods can be resurrected at the earliest, there have been issues that affect the vendors and the public that lie outside of the market. One of the key questions will be how can we resolve the parking problems which are currently affecting the business of the shopowners both inside and outside the market building as well as making it difficult for the traffic to manoeuvre its way through the increasing congestion on the roads? Will it help to survey the adequacy of the Parking facility built above the Shivaji Nagar bus stand and the roads leading up to it? Traffic congestion is a problem that the entire city of Bangalore is currently battling with. An article in The Hindu, Why do we find ourselves in such a jam today? discusses the vehicular growth in Bangalore over the last ten years, the draft Parking Policy and possible solutions for improving the movement of traffic on the roads.

The second key question will be how can the Municipal Corporation generate revenue so that it can maintain the market and its surroundings better, without the city having to lose a traditional bazaar and a heritage building? With heritage market buildings, it is attractive for the Municipal Corporation to take acquisition of the land and find a more lucrative use for it since the price of the land is higher than the value of the building that sits on it. The need to conserve architectural heritage is difficult to fathom in the strife for generating revenue for the city and improving its infrastructure. For the phenomenal numbers of people that live in every Indian city, it is amazing how cities work here. However, for citizens to appreciate the efforts of the government, perhaps the city needs to function even more efficiently or the government must be able to communicate to its people why it is unable to do better and how the public must contribute.

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Isabel said...

I was heartbroken to read about this on Saturday morning, especially after what happened at Gandhi Bazaar. You're made a very interesting assessment of the situation and of the issues faced by the shopkeepers.

Reshma at masalamangomantra.blogspot.com said...

I read this in the news the other day and I was so sad! I remember going to this market with my mom to buy fruits which we would not get elsewhere! Very sad...I hope the Municpal Corporation will be able to bring back the lost beauty!

Indian Bazaars said...

Isabel: I read about it in the news and then, when I got there, just stood in one place for a long time thinking how could we have let this happen? When I went there again on Thursday, the debris had been cleared and the vendors were conducting a puja that morning. It was heartening to see the complete change!

Reshma: We've been in Bangalore only since four years but have come to like the historic parts of the city so much. The government has given the vendors some funds which the Vendors' association has put together for renovation of the market building and the work has now begun.