Residents at mercy of market forces

Residents at mercy  of market forces

For some, street markets are nothing more than a weekly nuisance to be endured

The price of onion is not as important as getting parking space for some residents in south Delhi’s Gautam Nagar. Just a stone’s throw away lies the alleys of Moth Ki Masjid, a monument protected by the Archaeological Survey of India, where at least 200 stalls manned by 500 people spread their wares and vegetables every Thursday. A sea of people is squeezed into a tiny 80-metre stretch, to be joined by hundreds of evening shoppers till late in the night.

This leaves residents of the posh parts of Gautam Nagar and the adjacent Neeti Bagh in a bind over where to park their vehicles or walk safely.

“Vendors encroach upon the road and block our way. I am not saying the weekly market should not be allowed. It is gives cheap items to people who need them, but the market should be organised,” General Secretary of Delhi RWAs Joint Forum Pankaj Aggarwal says. “It is also a matter of safety.”

The vendors use small gas cylinders to sell snacks and sew up haphazard wiring to light their stalls. Some of them stock up flammable cloth pieces such as table sheets and garments for sale in the tight space.

“Accidents can happen easily any time. Police and municipal authorities must ensure the stalls follow a minimum standard of safety, which is surprisingly missing. Why wait for a disaster when they can prevent it?” 38-year-old Gautam Nagar resident Chanchal Saini says.

The vendors park their cargo three-wheelers on the sidewalk in Gautam Nagar, forcing people to walk on the main road after sunset. There are also no street lights to warn motorists of the protruding iron parts of these mutant vehicles, which are half autorickshaw, half truck.

“My motorcycle skidded after hitting the rear of a parked tempo four months ago. I got seven stitches in my right leg,” Masjid Moth resident Nitin Sharma says. “I asked the vendor to pay my medical bill or at least repair my motorcycle, but he got some goondas and told me to forget it,” Sharma says. “First of all he should not have kept his tempo on the pavement. That itself is punishable under traffic rules.”

Residents cannot do much as the vendors enjoy protection of touts who run the market by proxy by acting as the conduit between police and municipal officials, 32-year-old Gautam Nagar resident and homemaker Neha Jain says. “I have seen some men collecting money from the stalls one by one a few times. When I requested them to tell the vendors not to set up stalls on the main road, they told me to mind my own business. What should we do?” she says.

Chanchal Saini, whose father is a pradhan of the locality, says the weekly market has been there since he was a teenager. “People who are less moneyed depend on the market. Domestic help, students, they buy from there, so the RWA cannot apply pressure on the authorities to shut it down,” he says.

He says the Yusuf Sarai weekly market, about a kilometre away from Moth Ki Masjid, had to be shut down 10 years ago after it blocked traffic on the main road behind AIIMS.

Vegetable vendor Nishant Ram says he is aware of the inconvenience that residents face every Thursday. “This stretch is the only option we have at Moth Ki Masjid. If we had a choice we would have moved somewhere else in the same locality,” he says. From morning till late noon, buses of the nearby Father Agnel School occupy the main road. After they leave, the vendors rush in to park their tempos.

“We are stuck between the two of them. This locality is a playground for schoolchildren in the day and a mela ground for vendors at night. We are the victims of circumstances,” 35-year-old Neeti Bagh resident and corporate accountant Vineet Bugsy says.

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