Coronavirus in Mumbai: New marketplace at MMRDA ground in BKC sees hundreds gather without social distancing

Updated: Apr 16, 2020, 08:02 IST | Gaurav Sarkar | Mumbai

Makeshift veggie market at BKC's MMRDA ground sees hundreds gather between 10 pm and 6 am every day without social distancing

People seen without masks at the market. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi
People seen without masks at the market. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi

The sights and sounds at Bandra's MMRDA grounds — where scores of vegetable wholesalers have been doing business between 10 pm and 6 am every day since the APMC market in Vashi shut down — make one wonder whether there is any fear of COVID-19 among Mumbaikars.

Scores of vegetable vendors are scattered across four of the halogen-lit grounds; they line up next to each other without maintaining minimum distance, while interacting with thousands of customers.

None of the shops across all four grounds has circles drawn on the ground to enforce customers to maintain social distancing. People move together, spit on the ground, and casually brush against others while they carry large bags of produce. Hardly anyone wears masks but many use handkerchiefs wrapped across their faces. Some don't even bother with these. Furthermore, there are no police to ensure social distancing.

Many people don't wear masks and there are no police to ensure social distancing; Vegetable vendors line up next to each other without maintaining minimum distance, while interacting with thousands of customers Pics/Sayyed Sameer Abedi
Many people don't wear masks and there are no police to ensure social distancing; Vegetable vendors line up next to each other without maintaining minimum distance, while interacting with thousands of customers Pics/Sayyed Sameer Abedi

The shifting of wholesalers from the APMC market to the MMRDA grounds was meant to ease pricing pressures on vegetables and fruits, by supplying the produce directly into the city.

Vendors struggle
Rahul Jaiswal, 25, a resident of Antop Hill, sells everything from baby corn and broccoli to mushrooms and garlic at the MMRDA grounds. "I have been operating here since my shop at Dadar was shut down," he said, speaking to mid-day. "We face quite a few problems here — the main one being that the police authorities don't allow our tempos and vehicles to come into the ground. Only some vehicles that have valid passes are allowed to enter; the rest of us have to park our vehicles loaded with produce on the main road near BKC, and then carry it all the way to the ground. When the government has given us a designated space to operate out of, why can't we bring our vehicles into the ground? At sharp 6 AM, the cops begin to shoo us away…we cannot even move away quickly since we have to carry the leftover stock back to our vehicles."

Shankar Manikrao, a vendor
Shankar Manikrao, a vendor

Apart from the issue of transportation, Jaiswal pointed out that he has to arrive at MMRDA grounds by 9 PM and begin setting up shop at a feasible spot, since there are no designated spots for each of them. "We sell in wholesale and the produce is usually bought by local vegetable vendors, who in turn, sell it to local retailers. Buying from us is cheaper for them. We sell a packet of mushrooms here for anywhere between R20-25, but this same packet costs R35 when it is available at a local retailer." He admitted that business isn't as thriving as it used to be at the Dadar market. "I do a minimum business of R5,000 here every night but at Dadar, I used to make between R10,000-12,000 on an average every day."

Everyone is rushed
Shankar Manikrao, who used to work in a restaurant in Dadar, now sells vegetables at the MMRDA grounds along with his brother after he lost his job. He added, "The biggest problem is that we have to vacate the premises by 6 AM. This leaves us with very little time to do business. Everything is rushed. Not having our vehicles come into the grounds further increases the time constraint. We usually bring stock worth R3,000-4,000 along with us every night but it is a struggle to sell all of it, there is barely any profit in it for us."

Rahul Jaiswal, a vendor
Rahul Jaiswal, a vendor

Sameer Khan, a resident of Sion, echoed the concern of vehicles not being allowed to enter. "I had four cars of my own tonight but I was able to only sneak one into the ground since I took another route," he said.

Rs 5k
Approximate daily earning of a vendor at MMRDA grounds

Police speak

Speaking to mid-day, traffic policeman Rajendra Kalwa of BKC traffic chowkie said, "It will be really difficult for people to follow social distancing if all vehicles are allowed to enter. People keep their empty tempos parked on the road while they carry out their business. Buyers will say that they need the vehicles to load the produce that they have bought — they will keep vehicles waiting while they bargain with sellers for hours." He further said that only those vehicles were allowed to pass through the barricades, whose owners had already gone inside and bought their produce.

Asked whether he thought social distancing was being maintained on the grounds, he said, "No, I don't think so. There are circles that are drawn by chalk but they get erased because of so many people walking. It (the market) needs to be systematic and streamlined, like it was at APMC. Access control should be maintained by making people enter and exit from designated points."

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