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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XX No. 19, January 16-31, 2011
Traditional markets
making way for malls
(By A Special Correspondent)

Madras that is Chennai was once a city that had traditional market places in most of its older districts. These were constructed either by the Government or by private trusts and performed the important role of catering to the needs of their immediate neighbourhoods. But, of late, the fate of several of these markets has become uncertain, viewed as they are as prime pieces of real estate. There is also the view that these markets have outlived their use, with most people preferring to shop at organised retail outlets for their requirements.

The Thanneer Turai Market, so named because goods were brought to it via the Buckingham Canal and for long a landmark of Mylapore, was demolished last year. Owned by a trust whose control rapidly passed into the hands of a departmental store chain, the market was systematically emptied of its tenants, most of whom were vegetable sellers. Those who did not agree took the matter to court but financial sweeteners ultimately ensured that everyone was made happy. Today, the space occupied by the market is a mere shell, hidden behind high walls and a massive pair of gates. It is rumoured that the departmental store is planning to build a multi-storeyed outlet on the site. How permission can be given for such a construction which will only add to the congestion of the area is a matter for debate, but prior experience has shown that the real estate lobby will ultimately have its way.

The Sultan Market in Royapettah has remained empty for over three years now. It was claimed that the number of tenants had come down owing to poor business prospects and those who remained were all persuaded to leave happily. Though not demolished, the market remains securely locked, its eventual fate as yet undecided. Not so is the case of the Chengam Bazaar in George Town. Once the premier meat market for the area, its occupants saw business dwindle with the predominantly Jain and Marwari communities taking over the neighbourhood. Today, a few vegetable sellers and some mirror-makers occupy the increasingly dilapidated market. It is said that all that is preventing the place from being demolished is litigation. The disputing factions are all agreed on one point: namely that, once judgement is pronounced, the place could be demolished and developed. It is rumoured that prospective buyers are already inspecting the premises. The Kotwal Chavadi Market has long been wound up as part of the de-congestion process in George Town. The occupants of Flower Bazaar, more an informal market, were evicted from Badrian Street and its environs through court order.

To be sure, there are other markets – the Zam Bazaar Market, the Kal Mandapam Market at Royapuram, and the Fish Market in Chindadripet. The poor level of maintenance at all these places speaks volumes about what is perhaps being planned for them in the long –or short – run. Of course, the Chindadripet Fish Market is Government-owned and so it may not be done away with
for mere real estate considerations.

Those who argue for doing away with these markets cite poor hygiene, lack of quality and price controls, and the lack of access for cars that plague all of them. A recent report in a leading business daily has it that vegetables at these markets are at least 40 per cent more expensive than at organised retail outlets. The latter are able to pass on to customers the benefits of lower purchase prices owing to bulk-buying. There is, consequently, fewer clientele for the older markets.

So, do these markets have any future? And is sacrificing them to real estate demands the only answer? Historic cities in other parts of the country and abroad have shown us that such need not be the case. The spaces could be retained and, with the sensitising of their occupants, a great level of organisation in selling with emphasis on quality and fair pricing can be brought about. Mumbai has its Crawford Market, Bangalore its Russell Market, and Mysore the Devaraja Market, all of which have retained their original flavour.

Markets, among other things, give a city a unique flavour and, let’s face it, no standard retail outlet is ever going to give Chennai a character of its own.

In this issue

Scant attention paid to heritage by Metro
Traditional markets making way for malls
AFS helped to protect wartime Madras
The decisive third battle
Breathing the air of Broadway
Other stories

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