Early in the lockdown, when the delivery of milk to his building stopped, Dominic Fernandes knew he had to do something. “We were in a containment zone and babies had no milk to drink. Three of us got on our bikes and went to the milk distributor,” said the Bhayander West resident.
Since then, Fernandes and his fellow residents have taken it upon themselves to set up their own hyperlocal marketplace at their society.
The first thing the executive committee of Gokul Teresa Society did was to calculate how much money they had in reserve. “There are 10 members in our building who could not afford to pay maintenance since March because they haven’t been paid. We found that we could get by without charging maintenance until June and then charging 50 per cent maintenance till December,” Fernandes said.
The next step was to ensure that each of the building’s 40 families had access to fresh groceries at reasonable prices without having to leave the premises. Fernandes and his fellow residents – Dinesh Kadam, Satish Pawar, Shekhar Aanchal and Hasmukh Mayavanshi – purchased vegetables and fruits directly from wholesale suppliers. “This was at a time when online delivery platforms were overwhelmed and had suspended deliveries. There were long lines at retail shops, where prices had increased,” Fernandes said.
Knowing that many of their neighbours were elderly, under financial stress and did not have access to online delivery applications, the men set up a market on the buildings’ terrace – selling vegetables, fruits, and later pulses and oil at prices below the market rate.
“The wholesalers were happy because we were buying in bulk. Our neighbours were happy because they did not have to step out,” said Fernandes. Soon, the volunteers tied up with a local vegetable vender, who, assured of regular bulk sales, slashed his rates by half.
Gokul Teresa’s market began to impact prices at local retail shops. “Shopowners would ask us what we were selling next and were forced to reduce their prices,” said Fernandes. The society was soon buying a kg of onions for Rs 16, a kg of toor dal for Rs 75 and a litre of sunflower oil for Rs 120.
“We kept a margin of Rs 5 to Rs 10 and used the daily profits of between Rs 200 and Rs 400 to buy vegetables for those of us who weren’t receiving salaries,” he added.
The men worked in shifts, with Fernandes, who works at a senior position with a multinational bank, taking the one between 5 am and 12 pm to pick up the supplies. “I have the option of working from home and need to log in at 1 pm. Others take over at 1 pm,” he said.
Residents of another society have also attempted to replicate Gokul Teresa’s model, but gave up after two weeks, said Fernandes. “It takes commitment. This is the time to think about how your neighbours are managing. This is a very micro effort. But only when housing societies come together to take such a step, will prices come under control. Otherwise, they will keep rising,” he added.
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