Flea markets for the city
Every now and then one notices a commotion on city roads. Reason? Seeing vehicles of the UT Estate Office or the Municipal Corporation approach, groups of fruit sellers and people manning juice rehris run for their lives … or rather, their livelihoods. Many a time, they bump into passers-by or motorists, causing traffic mishaps. Some of the rehriwalas and fruit-sellers manage to escape by running into the city by-lanes while others are caught, their goods confiscated, rehris loaded into trucks and whisked away. The rest of the drama is not before the public eyes but one assumes that they are suitably "punished". But since most of them are back into business the next morning, it is apparent that the "action" is neither punitive nor deterrent. The places where most of them camp are also littered with garbage, which attracts stray cattle. This roadside tamasha has been played over and over again and ever since the city's inception. It shows that no one really bothered to deal with it. Or that there are compelling reasons to retain the status quo.
Why are the fruitsellers and rehriwallas there in the first place? Perhaps the fruit and vegetable shops are either not conveniently placed or are too few in number. Possibly, they are located in city markets where the high rent forces them to sell their wares at high prices. Besides, most people may also find it difficult to go to the Sector 26 Grain Market for their grocery purchases. The concept of Apni Mandis, where farmers could retail their fruits and vegetables fresh from the fields eliminating the middleman and his margin, has been gradually eroded with a lot of city traders being allowed to set up shop. Moreover, the traffic chaos at the venues could also deter people from patronizing the mandis.
Since the roadside fruit sellers and juicewallas have come to stay, it is time the UT Administration and MC chalked out a plan so that the consumers get their daily supply of fruits and vegetables at affordable rates near their homes and the poor rehriwalas are not at the mercy of junior officials. There is need to introduce the flea market concept, which is extremely popular in many countries abroad. The UT Administration or the MC could earmark a place in every sector where fruitsellers and rehriwallas could camp for the day after paying a nominal sum. Arrangements at the venue should be made for not only parking but also drinking water. There could be fixed hours for them to sell their wares after which the place should be cleared and cleaned every day. To ensure that no permanent structures come up at these places, the venue could be shifted every month. Having set up flea markets, the Administration must come down heavily on not just those who continue to sell fruits and vegetables by the roadside but also those who make purchases from them.
In order to ensure that there is no resentment against the place chosen for the purpose, the local counsellor and the Sector Welfare Association should be taken into confidence. Depending on how the experiment works in Chandigarh, not only the nearby cities of Panchkula and SAS Nagar but also other towns of the region could also follow suit. But the Administration must ensure that the flea markets do not weaken the Apni Mandi concept, which is unique and in fact needs to be strengthened further.