Two days after a portion of the makeshift Baisakhi market’s roof collapsed, there is no clarity on who would do the repairs. The affected fishmongers had no choice but to push back the debris, squat where they used to and continue selling under tarpaulin sheets.
On Monday morning, the tin roof above five fishmongers gave way. They jumped out in the nick of time and escaped with only cuts and bruises. This isn’t the first time such an incident has occurred at this market and while the vendors want a permanent solution, the authorities still don’t have an answer to satisfy them.
Long wait for space
Some of these vendors had started hawking around the Baisakhi Island over 40 years ago. Then in 2008, the then-municipality entered a public-private joint venture with AMP Universal to build AMP Vaisaakkhi mall at the space they used to occupy. The hawkers were asked to move into a make-shift market behind their existing space and were promised stalls inside the mall once it was built.
“There are 190 of us allottees who have paid the civic body between Rs 10,000 and 20,000 for space in the mall, that opened in 2014. We have allotment letters in hand but cannot move in without possession certificates that the civic body is denying us,” says president of the Baisakhi market committee, Mrityunjoy Singha.
Over the years, the committee has pleaded with every councillor, mayor, MLA and even tried reaching the chief minister herself but their case hasn’t progressed. “Last year we were called by the civic body to get our documents verified but again, it was false hope,” says Singha.
In the bargain, the market, that was supposed to house the vendors for a matter of months has been doing so for nearly 15 years. No wonder the gates have rusted away, pillars are hanging by ropes and during a 2018 squall, the tin roofs had collapsed injuring 18 people, including two who fell on bnotis.
Trapped in legal limbo
Singha, president of the market committee, said no government representative had come to meet them after Monday’s accident. “Mayor Krishna Chakraborty spoke to us over phone. She said they were busy due to Kali puja and that she would organise a meeting with us after the festivals,” he said. “To date, the cost of the market’s repairs have had to be borne by vendors themselves but let’s see if we get any help from them this time.”
Chakraborty says the matter is not easy to resolve. “So many bazaars have mushroomed around Baisakhi. We had tried to provide a set-up to the vendors there who have some receipt of payment. They were called and their names were enlisted. But the pandemic delayed the process,” she said. “Though everyone paid the same amount, some people were allotted larger spaces than others. Initially there was disagreement among them over this, but they had eventually agreed to a lottery.”
Chakraborty says that urban development minister Firhad Hakim had agreed to handle the Baisakhi market situation, “but look at the place now! So many others have set up new stalls there. If everyone starts demanding space it will be an impossible situation. Local residents are also upset with the crowding. Councillor Anita Mondal keeps asking why we are not taking action. My sympathies are with these boys. They are being deprived for years.”
An added complication, she says, is a court case that Pradip Poddar of AMP Universal has filed against them. “The mall is still running on a provisional completion certificate. Poddar has claimed he has been spending on maintenance of the mall and sent us a bill for Rs 2.5 crore. The enlisted shop-keepers have not even managed to shift inside yet and he keeps charging us. He has filed a case and it is a sub-judice matter. We can do nothing till the case is resolved,” she said.
All in a day’s work
While news of Monday’s accident sent waves of shock and sympathy through the market’s clientele, it hasn’t hampered business. “Of course I’m scared that the roof might fall on me next but what choice do I have? Baisakhi is the cheapest market and I have to continue to shop here,” said Dipak Singh, a government employee who lives in Baisakhi Abasan.
It’s the same for the injured fish mongers. Joydeb Mondal, who had his leg bandaged and was nursing an injured head and back after the crash, is back doing business at ground zero. “I lost fish worth Rs 70-80,000 that day and cannot bear more losses,” he says. “No market in Salt Lake is in as poor a shape as ours. We provide the best and cheapest fish but the authorities exploit us. Had this accident happened on a Sunday it would have been way more crowded and 10-12 people would have died. Maybe then they would have taken our plight seriously.”
Additional reporting by Sudeshna Banerjee