Bengaluru’s Krishna Rajendra Market which is nearing its 100th year is one of the historical landmarks of the city. Although it carries cultural significance, it is shadowed under piles of garbage and broken manholes that add to the misery of visitors and vendors. The market stands on a waterbody. It initially functioned around it until efforts of widening the fort wall displaced vendors.
However, an open ground emerged and several vendors took to the ground to set up their fruit and vegetable shops. The City Improvement Committee decided to convert that area into a market and even hosted a Market Show where the best flowers, fruits, and vegetables to have been produced were rewarded.
Today, it is packed with people who walk through dismantled structures and pathways coupled with apathy from the authorities. “It is unorganized and dirty. This is mostly because of the irresponsible vendors and authorities. This (Covid-19 lockdown) could have been a golden opportunity for the government to clean, create amenities, kick out excess vendors, and bring discipline to vendors and customers,” says Ananth Balraju, a regular at the market.
“The pandemic has indeed affected all the major markets, especially the KR market. Many functions and events have been halted due to the pandemic and lockdown restrictions. There is also the fear of contracting the Corona virus in the market,” says Padmaja, a Bengaluru local.
Anoop Ravi, a frequent visitor to the KR market, says he is disheartened by the impact of the pandemic on markets including the Madiwala and Jalahalli markets. Several vendors have lost hope and have shut down their shops.
Abdul Majid hailing from Kerala has been a fruit vendor in the market for over 40 years. The lockdown severely affected his business badly. He has lived in the market area for the last 40 years but has never seen the market this dull and empty. It affected him both as a vendor and resident.
As a result of Covid-19, people are afraid to gather in crowded places and K R market is one of those places. “The market has been famous for its crowds and dirt, and for those two exact reasons, we are observing a gradual lack of interest in the market culture,” he says.
The vendors find it difficult to protect their makeshift shops when it rains. Rajendran, a fruit vendor, says that their shops are damaged when it rains and all their efforts go in vain. “Before the pandemic, the market was booming," adds Rajendran.
According to a report by the Indian Online Grocery Market Outlook 2021-2026, the Covid-19 pandemic is expected to have shifted the preferences of consumers towards online grocery markets. People’s interest to avoid crowded places coupled with the continued need for groceries has brought e-markets such as BigBasket and Grofers to the limelight. The vendors fear that the increasing focus on e-markets can hamper their business and leave them neglected.
Sharif suffered due to lack of income when his shop was shut during the lockdown. Photo by Preetika Parashuraman/NSoJ
Sharif has been selling bananas since 1992. It was an upsetting scenario for him to witness the market shut after so many years due to the pandemic. He says that the city was once synonymous with the city market. For any occasion, people would head to the market. His sales went downhill after the market was closed. “Since festivals are approaching, I hope people will visit my shop. But since people have started buying their fruits online, I am worried that they might forget about the market vendors,” he says.
According to the vendors, people are ready to compromise and pay whatever they want when it is to be bought online, but when it comes to local markets they are often ignored. “But what about my hard work? Even the public has become scared to come here now. I barely earn any profit. I am not even able to meet basic expenses such as my loans and rent. I have not been able to pay salaries to vendors who work for me. Once upon a time, I would sell tons of bananas but now I am barely able to sell a kilogram,” Rajendran adds.
The vendors hoped to receive some support from the government during these trying times. They even requested them to think about their lives before imposing lockdown restrictions. People would flock around the market during the festive season but now it is just the vendors, garbage dumps, and a few people. After months of being shut, most of them had to search for other means to earn an income and protect their livelihoods.
Manjunath has been selling photo frames of Hindu gods for over 30 years. He believes that the market culture in the city is gradually fading away. While people don’t visit the market like before, he blames malls and hypermarkets for directing people away from the City market. According to him, generational differences along with the covid-19 pandemic added to the list of reasons why people have stopped coming to the market. He tells people not to be concerned about contracting the virus in his shop if they wear their masks and follow the rules. But he doesn't see many people following the protocols.
Vendors sorting flowers to keep up with festival orders. Photo by Preetika Parashuraman/NSoJ
The flower market gears up for the festival season but the place stinks due to open drains and litter. “I need to wear the mask not only to protect myself from Covid-19 but also the bad smell. I am very old and it becomes difficult to breathe. I have no choice but to sit here and try to sell these fruits. The government is not doing anything,” says a vendor who wished to be anonymous.
As construction work is in progress, vendors set up their makeshift shops amidst dust and debris. Photo by Preetika Parashuraman/NSoJ
The pandemic has instilled fear among most people. Large gatherings and filth lying everywhere are some of the biggest red flags when it comes to preventing oneself from contracting diseases. Women have set up their fruit markets amidst debris and plastic. A construction initiative has broken down many shops leaving most vendors to the roads and streets. While it is a desperate situation for them, it is simultaneously driving away potential customers.
The vendors end up throwing fruits and vegetables that remain unsold. Cows and street dogs make their way into the market roads making it inconvenient for people to walk on the already congested roads. The cows fill their stomach with the fruits and vegetables that are dumped by the vendors and sometimes they are seen hunting for some food in garbage dumps around the market. These dumps attract crows and street dogs that interrupt a customer’s experience in the market.
The unorganized disposal and management of waste from the meat and fruit and vegetable markets continues. The market is filled with peels, flower waste, plastic, and cow dung. While people walk over this garbage spread across the market, it can cause a huge inconvenience not only for customers but vendors too. Besides cows, mosquitoes breed on these garbage dumps increasing the risk of contracting various infections and illnesses.
Garbage disposal vans surround fruit vendors creating a breeding ground for bacteria. Photo by Preetika Parashuraman/NSoJ
To address this issue, dustbins need to be installed. Currently, there are only a few dustbins present in the market and they are often observed to be over-filled with waste. There is also the lack of waste segregation as wet waste is mixed with plastic wrappers and bags. Some vendors set up shops right beside dumps of waste where mosquitoes breed.
A report by B.P. Naveen (Associate Professor & Head, Amity University Haryana) and P.V. Sivapullaiah (Professor of Civil Engineering, Indian Institute of Science) studies solid waste management in the city. It states that the city is facing problems due to existing waste disposal practices and the absence of infrastructural facilities. Additionally, open dumps also pose a hindrance to the structures constructed on them. According to the waste management survey of Bangalore city (2016), the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) has been implementing various waste management techniques, but these are not efficiently followed by the people.
Dr. G Parameshwara who was the Deputy Chief Minister of Karnataka from May 2018 to July 2019 held a surprise inspection of the market. He was appalled by the unhygienic condition the market was in and wanted to build three mega markets similar to the K R market on Mysuru Road, Hosur Road, and Tumkur Road.
Two years ago, there were plans to give the city market a facelift under the Bengaluru Smart City initiative. The plan was to streamline the reconstruction in a more organized manner. The goal was to make it a cleaner area which will attract more people to visit the market. The plan also included the renovation of the meat market. They wanted to demolish the meat market and rebuild it with air conditioners to keep the meat fresh. However, the plans to revamp the market raised an important concern. With a background of rich historical significance, questions have been raised about the preservation of the market’s historical value.
Vinay Sreenivasa, advocate cum activist, told the Economic Times that the initiative should not convert the market into a mall. He emphasized on retaining it as a market of the poor people. As it reflects the spirit of erstwhile Bengaluru, the market’s original santhe like persona should be kept alive, he added.
Bengaluru has been at the forefront when it comes to development and innovation. While the city is growing each day, its historical markets are being neglected and losing significance. The pandemic has also contributed to the diminishing market culture, thereby negatively affecting the morale and pockets of the market vendors. Moreover, as sanitation and hygiene are being prioritized, it is therefore important to direct attention to restoring the significance of the City market.