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

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

The Riddle of Russell market

There are two riddle questions that seem to come out of the fire that damaged the Russell market ten days ago.

1. What really caused the fire – conflict or neglect? 
I read in The Hindu on 25 Feb 2012 Bangalore's Russell market gutted that it was an electrical short circuit that caused the fire. But, the vendors say it is a big plan of the government to get them onto the footpath and out of the 2-acre property. One vendor I spoke to said “How could an electrical short circuit spread so much and destroy such a large part of the market in a time period of half an hour?”. Another vendor insisted on explaining that “The Fire Department was also with THEM. They were dousing water with high pressure pipes onto the cast-iron columns instead of onto the wood that was on fire. You see, that is why the cast-iron pillars are now bent, whilst the fire continued to spread and cause damage”. Speaking to the vendors six months ago, I had learnt that the rent paid by each of the shopowners inside the market building is Rs.200 per month. They do not want to pay more. The municipal corporation has been refraining from proper maintenance as a result. Why have the vendors not agreed to paying more? Why has the government kept away?

2. Will the government eventually demolish the market building to build a mall?
The government has been denying having any plans for acquisition of the Russell market property to build a mall here. Municipal Commissioner M K Shankarlinge Gowda  has said “There are no plans before the BBMP to demolish the existing structure. Besides, it is not a suitable place to build a shopping complex” (Source: IBN Bangalore)

But, the vendors have formed a new association last week, where the fruit vendors, the vegetable vendors and other small vendor groups can collectively form a stronger force that the government cannot displace. They had a puja on last Thursday morning which received some media attention. I learnt from the Secretary of the Vendors association that they were so determined now to hold a grand Exhibition in December (it was an old tradition during the British times) at the Russell market and that there was nothing the government could do to take their market away from them.

It’s difficult to know what is true, but important nevertheless that we find the right answers because in all of this conflict and neglect, we almost LOST a historic market of the city. If perceptions need to change, how do we do that? If perception IS reality, then, how do we effect change?
I am posting here some photographs from last week's visit to Russell market the morning of the Puja. It was a complete change from the days immediately after the fire, pictures of which are at:
Russell market after the fire

The main entrance of the Russell market on 1st March - the day of the Puja

The priests from Muslim educational institutions all over the city being served a meal after the reading of the Quran.

This was the part which had been damaged completely and can be seen in the previous post pictures as well.

Some of the vendors intermittently came in to participate in the Puja. In one side of the market building, business was going on as usual.

While the priests read, the chaiwallah looked on.

While the priests read, the newspaper reporters and the television channel photographers documented what went on. 

Life was getting back to normal on the day of the puja 

There was after the Quran reading, a Hindu priest performing a puja.

Was this the same market courtyard we had seen a week ago?