Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Politics of the Marketplace

The resilience of the marketplace in the Indian city makes one rethink about the modes of analysis of the urban processes. If a marketplace is influenced by the economic, the social and the political environment that prevails in the city, how do we interlace the readings and find meaningful answers when a problem occurs? How can we ensure that structures of power affect urban living in a beneficial way?

The reconstruction at the damaged Russell market started a few days ago. On visiting the market yesterday, I found that the work is going on at a rapid pace so that the market activity can resume to its normal level. At present, the fruit and vegetable vendors have already started to conduct business in the mornings. The market functions from the space that has already been roofed with the new corrugated metal sheets and metal rafters. An article in IBN Live, Renovation of Russell market points out that Rs. 40 lakhs has been invested. The vendors mentioned that they would be spending upto Rs.70 lakhs although their ideal budget was Rs.1.5 crores.

It is good to see that the vendors and the customers have a chance to be back into their familiar routine of the everyday sales. However, all is not well yet. The vendors have now been asked by the BBMP to vacate the premises. A legal notice has been issued stating that the building is in a dilapidated condition and not fit for occupation yet. The government reminded the vendors that it owns the building, it wants the vendors to evacuate the property and repair the damages based on a thorough evaluation of the structural condition of the market. The vendors have not yet left the building and the renovation work has not been stopped.

When I asked the vendors how they would respond to the government's stance that they own the market building and therefore the efforts of the vendors were not legal, they said they could not have waited for the government to plan the renovation. In the initial days after the fire, the government officials had told them that they didnot presently have the funds. It would have taken some months for the building to be repaired and for them to restart their business. Besides, they weren’t sure if it wouldn’t have all been postponed until after the elections. So, they had no choice but to invest their own funds and appoint a contractor for the repair work.

The Deccan Chronicle has noted in an article Russell market was the handiwork of miscreants on March 9, 2012 that “The initial suspicion was that the fire was caused due to an electrical short-circuit. However, the State Electrical Inspectorate that has been brought in to investigate the cause of the fire, has ruled out that angle and has given a clean chit to Bescom”. The vendors had said in the first few days after the fire that it could not have been an electrical short circuit. Now, the news highlights that “Bescom officials, from the start, had maintained that they were not to be blamed for the fire. We have even given in writing to the State Electrical Inspectorate the reasons for the fire. We are still waiting for the final report as it as not been submitted to us” said Mr Ashok Angadi, chief engineer, Bescom”

The former chief minister Kumaraswamy visited the Russell market ten days ago and handed over cheques of Rs.20,000 to many of the vendors who’s stalls had been affected. In DNA’s article on 5th March 2012, Kumaraswamy visits Russell market, gives Rs.20,000 each to shopkeepers he is reported to have said: “Other leaders such as SM Krishna may have promised Rs1 crore as compensation, but nothing has come of it. Unlike other leaders, I have not made any promises but shown you that I can deliver

The evacuation notice by BBMP to the vendors, who seem to have challenged the ownership of the building by investing in the repairs themselves, the statement from Bescom clearing themselves from the blame of negligence and a People’s representative reassuring the local population of Shivajinagar that his concern and support for them can be valued as higher than his fellow representatives – at the root of all of this – there seems to be protection of individual interests surpassing the need for concern of heritage that belongs to the public and functionality of urban services for public good. There seems to be an exertion of power that each group professes that others must contend with. How can these seemingly individual actions become collective decisions for the city and its urban spaces?

Related posts:
Russell market after the fire
The Riddle of Russell market
Informal Economy and Urban space


Meena Venkataraman said...

Wow - Brilliant article Kiran.
You thorough analysis and painstaking research brings this article to life and shouts out loud about issues that need addressing

Indian Bazaars said...

Thanks, Meena for reading through and leaving a comment.