It once had a daily footfall of 50,000. Now, on good days, it sees a maximum of 10,000 people. Shutdown in May after being traced as the source of thousands of Covid-19 cases in several Tamil Nadu districts and neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, the Koyembedu Wholesale Market was recently reopened at two temporary sites.
However, with strict safety measures in place to avoid a repeat of another Covid-19 outbreak, small-time traders say they are still a long way from finding their feet.
Arul, who has been involved in the vegetable business for more than a decade, said the authorities have given permission only for shops which are at least 600 to 2,400 square feet in size. “I have a shop around 400 square feet, there are close 1,500 shops like mine, but the authorities are saying that they will provide permission only for bigger shops and won’t allow us to do business in the open area. They are saying only these 200 shops will be allowed to operate till the situation returns to normalcy. If the government allows us to operate, it will be beneficial not just for us but also for the public because restricting the shops will increase prices and the public are the ones who will be affected,” he said.
A.Selvaraj, President, Puratchiyalar Ambedkar Koyembedu Valaga Vyabarigal Munnani Sangam, said many of the small-time traders have gone back to their hometowns as the government is not permitting to operate in Koyembedu. “The situation has worsened. We have been requesting the government to allow the small shops to function, but there hasn’t been any favorable response.”
Restrictions on the entry of goods trucks and time limitations on unloading them also do not sit well with the traders. The state government passed orders allowing the goods trucks to operate only between 7 pm and 9 am. The vehicles are given only an hour to load goods.
Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) takes care of all the arrangements through a Market Management Committee. S.Govindarajan, CEO of the Committee said: “We are doing everything to keep this place safe. Trucks are fumigated, drivers are subjected to thermal scanning, Covid-19 preventive measures are constantly played over loudspeakers. Only 220 shops are in operation now, so per shop two or three trucks are allowed. The general public is not allowed as it may lead to unnecessary congestion.”
“If we don’t initiate these timings, the workers will take their own time, some may take rest as they would have been driving continuously. So to avoid all these things, timings are in place,” he added.
But traders say the measures are hurting them. “The time-limit is the problem; we are forced to buy goods at a certain price as there is not enough time left for bargaining. Also, there are no officials to regulate the trucks. We were waiting from yesterday night and were able to get the goods only by 6 am but certain trucks that came at 4 am bypassed us and were able to load the goods. People like us who already suffering due to lack of income in this Covid-19 are further pushed down by these things,” Ramesh, a small-time merchant said.
Another cause for concern is the lack of cleanliness at the market and general disregard towards masks and social distancing among the market labour. Drainage water can be also seen flowing close to the shops. Labourers complain that wearing masks make it difficult for them to breathe and their sweat makes them unusable after some time. Siding with them on the issue, Selvaraj said there are many practical difficulties.
“We must respect and follow the SOPs issued by the government; there are no second thoughts about that. However, for a section of workers who carry around 100kgs on their back, it will be difficult to wear masks, they will suffocate. Also, social distancing cannot be achieved 100 per cent in market areas among workers and traders,” he said.
Increase in the number of cases in Chennai – An evolving concern
The Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) removed all the containment zones in the city in the last week of September as the city was reporting less than 1,000 cases. But, in the past few weeks, there has been a surge in the number of Covid-19 cases that pressed that Corporation to reintroduce the containment zones. According to GCC, the city which had around containment zones on October 4 reached a peak of 70 on Friday.
Ambattur (Zone 7) alone has 29 zones, the highest in the city. It is followed by Tondiarpet (Zone 4) with 11 zones. This situation has forced the public to wonder whether the city is experiencing a second wave of Covid-19 like other states. The relaxations of public transport and public places are seen as one of the reasons for the increase in the number of cases. Under these circumstances, by evading the SOPs, the workers are putting not just them but others’ lives also at risk.
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