It is one among Bangalore’s traditional fruit and vegetable bazaars that may soon perish to make way for a mall. Opinion is divided over its preservation
Bangalore’s market spaces are witnessing a battle between tradition and modernity. While it’s too early to declare a sole winner, modernity has a definite edge. The modern commercial complexes and malls that are fast replacing traditional vegetable and flower markets all over the city are a case in point. Over the years, area after area has seen these battles and most times, it is the traditional markets that fall.
Now, is the High Court sounding the death knell for the Malleswaram traditional market by backing the Government agencies’ BBMP and Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) modernity drive? According to varied accounts, the Malleswaram market on Sampige Road, opposite the Kaadu Malleswara temple is between 30 and 50 years old, and houses between 200 to 250 vegetable and flower vendors. The market is spread over roughly two acres of land. According to MLA Dr Ashwath Narayana, for the past 10 years, the city corporation has been trying to realise the true commercial value of the land by planning a commercial complex.
The vendors, on their part, have been resisting this move, for fear of losing business. After all, who would want to come into a complex to buy vegetables, they argue. But just last week, in a boost to the city corporation’s campaign, the High Court decreed that work on the commercial project could commence once the vendors were rehabilitated. The corporation has its own arguments in favour of the commercial project. It contends that each vegetable vendor here pays a mere Rs 150 as rent per month while rents from commercial set ups like shops can fetch ten times the amount at current market rates.
An official, who did not want to be named, said, “How fair is it to collect just Rs 150 per shop, per month on two acres in the heart of the city, when it can generate crores? As the city corporation we are mandated to utilise land in such a way as to realise its true market potential. We have given away public land to a few vendors at throwaway prices.” The corporation official argues that the vendors will not be forgotten. The commercial property that will come up on the land will have a floor dedicated to them. “Vendors can be part of the complex when ready, provided they follow certain regulations. Until the complex is built, they will be given an alternative place to conduct their business.
” The vendors on their part have submitted a memorandum to chief minister Siddaramaiah, through political leader, and former ACP BK Shivaram, seeking his intervention to stop the demolition of the old market. Shivaram, a Malleswaram resident, who has taken up the cause of the vendors, told Talk, “The city corporation says vendors pay only a rent of Rs 150 per month. But doesn’t it have the right to charge market rates from them? Why is the corporation not exercising its right? They can improve the structure, fix leakages, set right wiring, improve roofing and tidy up the place to ensure that vendors remain. This is a traditional market that has existed for nearly 30 to 50 years.
Can’t we preserve the few local spaces we have in the city?” Shivaram alleges that the real concern “for some people” is not the commercial complex itself, but the financial gains that come out of it. “I am told the contract may be given to the relative of a tainted contractor in the city. As BBMP and BDA are cash-strapped, they will naturally hand the land over to a contractor to build the complex and then try to fork rent out of it. What part of this will be official and unofficial is anybody’s guess. Who is to know what part will be paid off as commission to officials and politicians by the contractor? In the end, the whole project will end up being profitable for the contractor and a few bureaucrats and politicians.
” A senior BDA official who did not want to be named rubbished the allegations, “The BDA issued a tender, and after competitive bids one agency has emerged the winner. Only after a legal and transparent process have we appointed a contractor to begin work.” The policeman-turned-politician also alleges that while the BDA does not even have enough money to pay salaries to its staff, the fact is it has no revenue-generating work. “Won’t it therefore be convenient to start off projects that will bring in some money for it to survive? Such projects justify their existence. What money will be passed on as commission, we don’t know. My theory is that such commercial projects are meant to keep the BDA afloat which otherwise has no work in the city.” The BDA official, who did not want to be named, argued back, “BDA is in no financial crisis.
The staff gets their salaries. It is a figment of imagination to state we have no work or money, and that we are creating work to justify ourselves.”Meanwhile residents are rallying around to preserve Malleshwaram’s traditions. Residents around Eighth Cross Malleswaram have formed the Kaadu Malleswara Devasthana Geleyara Sangha (Kaadu Malleswara Temple Friends Association) and frequently organise cultural programmes at the temple located opposite the market. “We are desperately trying to keep the old traditions of Malleswaram alive. The market is part of this cultural ecosystem,” says Shivaram. Meenakshi Bharath, a civic activist, echoes Shivaram’s sentiment. “Malleswaram’s traditional spaces are disappearing one by one.
We already have two malls—the Orion and the Mantri. Do we need another one? A city like London has preserved its old market areas that host music programmes with people gathering in the evenings over music and tea. When London is preserving its heritage, why can’t Bangalore do the same with its traditional markets? An architect could have been invited to design the market to make it come alive culturally while allowing the economic activity of the vendors. When the whole of Europe is concerned about heritage preservation despite being modern, why is Bangalore systematically destroying its tradition?” MLA Ashwath Narayana is dismissive of heritage claims.
“I can understand heritage concerns if the market was hundreds of years old. How can a structure that is leaking, that has no clean space, that has no proper basic amenities and that is not even occupied entirely, be called heritage space? Vendors don’t want to sit at the back of the market because people don’t come in so far to make their purchases. What is to be done with the space then? Is it not a waste of space and commercial value?” In addition, the MLA says, “We are building a car park area and floors with shops. One floor will be given to the vendors. It will be cleaner, have electricity, better toilets. What objection can they have to this? Sampige road, he points out is packed with cars. “If we can get the cars parked inside, won’t it be a relief for vehicle users? Won’t the roads be free? When we put forward this argument, people say we’re trying to favour a contractor or we’re trying to make money.
” He says he is open to exploring alternative options if they indeed exist. “Malleshwaram already has two malls, and we understand that there is no need for another one. We have specifically suggested a car park to ease traffic congestion. People think a commercial complex means a mall.” But Shivaram draws attention to the KR Market complex and Jayanagar complex. “The KR Market complex is ugly, dirty and inconvenient. Vendors there have found people don’t come into the complex to buy anything. The Jayanagar complex, though occupied, has too many problems— from roofing, electricity, to water issues. Fortunately, the plan for a complex at KR Puram has been dropped owing to public pressure, but the traditional market at Seshadripuram has been destroyed.
Only some markets in Cottonpet area have survived, but we don’t know for how long.” The High Court has in some sense brought an end to this debate by ordering the construction of the commercial complex only after the rehabilitation of the vendors. Transition can be disruptive and it is only natural that vendors feel anxious about this change from tradition to modernity. Even as they continue to sell their wares on the streets of Malleswaram, they are keeping their fingers crossed about their future. As for the BDA, only time will tell if their modern market project is a ruse to justify their existence.