Lakshmi (Name changed) is one of the vendors in Kannagi Nagar market near Kannagi Nagar Bus stop. She and her husband were resettled in Kannagi Nagar after being evicted from Adayar 12 years ago. Both working then in a full time establishment, she as a caretaker in a creche and he as a biriyani master in a hotel found it difficult to keep their full time occupation once they were resettled in Kannagi Nagar and have opted for vending. Their day starts when her husband makes the trip to Koyambedu market at 2AM and goes till 8PM in the night. Initially Lakshmi’s husband would sell the vegetables in a push cart. Eventually, they took a loan to setup a space in Kannagi Nagar Market, an organic vending space that has emerged . The market near the bus stop provides convenience for the workers to buy produce after they come back from work.
Lakshmi and the 160+ vendors in Kannagi Nagar Market selling everything from Garlic, dried fish to fresh vegetables and fruits and meat and non food items cater exclusively to the working class’s needs in Kannagi Nagar. Kannagi Nagar is a ghetto of working class families who have been evicted and resettled from more than 60 slums over a period of 13 years in various parts of Chennai. More than 10000 families live in 2 storey and 3 storey structures with 200-300 square feet per family. As workers negotiate livelihood in the city and in OMR IT corridor, the market place in Kannagi Nagar has expanded over the past few years where female and male vendors of all ages source their produce from various parts of the city including Koyambedu (for vegetables and fruits), Paris Flower Bazaar(flowers) and Pulianthope (for meat) and sell locally.
However, the plight of these 160 vendors is in question as the officials of TNSCB conducted an eviction drive reportedly in March and destroyed the vending market. According to the vendors, the reason for eviction cited was that the roads are being extended for new bus routes to ECR. Pointing to the quiet road, opines Lakshmi, “We dont understand. It’s not that our shops are creating congestions here”. “I had a proper shop here. I had to borrow a loan to source the shop. But now I just put the vegetables on the side as we don’t know what could happen” she says.
The vendors are getting organized to protect their interests and rights. CPI South Chennai District Secretary Elumalai who has intervened on behalf of the vendors and is organizing the vendors says that Chennai Corporation Mayor, the constituency MLA and MP have all supported the cause of the vendors. “This drive is being carried out by TNSCB officials with local political influence. We have also petitioned the Chief Minister on this issue. ” he said. He also said that the Government has proposed to setup vending complexes in the city and has demanded that local vendors are given priority in allocation of vending licenses in the site.
Incidentally, the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihoods and Regulation of Street Vending) Bill 2012(http://www.prsindia.org/billtrack/the-street-vendors-protection-of-livelihood-and-regulation-of-street-vending-act-2012-2464/) has been tabled in the Parliament to protect the rights of the street vendors and is expected to be passed in the current parliament session.