At the vegetable market in Patel Park here, vendors have decided to pool in money to employ a night security personnel to guard a precious commodity: onions. As they work out the logistics, they have cut the stocks they store at the market, as precaution.
The measures follow the theft of five sacks of onions weighing 250 kg and worth Rs 25,000 from the stall of Prahlad Ingle, 53, at Patel Park last month. Ingle considered going to police but decided the “hassle” was not worth it.
Like he did thrice a week, Ingle had gone to the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) on November 25, to buy onions and potatoes in bulk to sell at the Patel Park market. The market has hundreds of vendors, allotted space there by the Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC) 15 years ago, moving them off the roads.
Since the market has no facility to stock unsold items, the vendors pack these in sacks at the end of the day, and cover them with plastic sheets against stray animals. On November 27 night, Ingle had left behind unsold potatoes and onions. The next morning, he discovered his five sacks of onions missing, with the potatoes left untouched.
Ingle says he searched all over the nearby area and talked to neighbouring shop owners, but nobody seemed to know anything. “I don’t know why my shop was targeted.”
The SMC market doesn’t have a CCTV camera that could have helped track the culprits. An official, who refused to identify himself, said the high onion price is being considered as the reason behind the theft, while adding that they do not have any records of total daily sales at the market.
Originally from Malkapur in Maharashtra, Ingle has been selling vegetables in Surat for 25 years. He suspects the hand of another vendor in the theft, adding, “This is the first time there has been such an incident. Earlier, weighing machines and hand carts had been stolen.”
The 53-year-old adds that he wanted to go to police but decided against it after a chat with other vendors, who cautioned him against “police procedures”. “Police will demand the bill of stolen items and blame us for leaving stocks in the open. Police will also keep summoning us at odd times,” he says.
Surat Mayor Dr Jagdish Patel, who has heard of the theft, says the vendors are themselves to blame. “We just gave them a platform to sell their items. If they keep them there for the whole night without any security cover, it is their responsibility.”
A vendor for the past 10 years at the market, Sanjay, 25, points out that he lives 7 km away, and it was impossible for him to carry his unsold stock home and bring it back in the morning.
So, like the others, he has decided to cut the amounts he purchases, to cover just his daily sales, to keep his stock low. “Today the price in our market is Rs 120 per kg, and we know people will not buy too much. Earlier, we would sell around 150 kg of potatoes and onions daily, and would buy four days of stock. Now the sale of onions is down to 40 kg a day, though the potato sales are stable,” Sanjay says.
Surat Congress president Babu Rayka said the party would ask the municipal commissioner to provide the hawkers storage space in the vegetable markets. Till then, a guard would have to do.