'City Pulse' keeps tabs on what Chennai's citizens think about issues that affect their everyday life.

Changes are afoot in T. Nagar — a locality that conjures up images of colourful shops, big and small, sounds of vendors calling out their wares and customers jostling with traffic.

While the Chennai Corporation is busy with relocating hawkers to a new complex in Pondy Bazaar by October, residents, shopkeepers and consultants are discussing ways to improve the locality. The vendors are wary of the consequences of relocation.

Long drawn-out battle

After years of legal battle and enumeration process by the Madras High Court-appointed Hawking Committee, headed by former judge A. Ramamurthi, nearly 1,109 shops have been identified for accommodation in the shopping complexes at Pondy Bazaar, Ayanavaram and Royapuram.

The complexes, constructed by the Chennai Corporation at a total cost of Rs.5.76 crore with facilities such as toilets and lifts, were inaugurated recently.

In T. Nagar alone, 644 vendors of Pondy Bazaar, Sivaprakasam Road and Usman Road would be relocated to the complex. The ground floor would be occupied by vendors dealing in perishables.

The 100 vendors who were vacated from the complex that paved way for the new facility would also be accommodated on the ground floor. While those selling clothes and fancy items would occupy the first floor, the second and third floors have been allotted to toy vendors.

But, this has evoked a mixed response. Even while appreciating the construction of the complexes as a good move, many vendors also complained that the space allotted to them is inadequate. The five feet by five feet space given to each vendor would not even accommodate two persons, hawkers said.

“We have been asked to stick to the allotted space and not to make any alterations by way of civil works inside. The complex is likely to become congested as only a gap of three feet would be available between each shop,” said R. Shanmugam, a flower vendor. Vendors also worry about the security of their goods and business timing.

P. Kumaravel, a hawker in Pondy Bazaar, said, “Many of us have been doing business as hawkers for three generations. Now I pay Rs.100 as monthly rent to the Corporation. I hope the rent at the complex is affordable.”

Vendors in Royapuram and Ayanavaram also have similar problems. Those in Ayanavaram are waiting for the draw of lots to be carried out in a few days for allotment of 201 shops in the complex. “The number of hawkers seeking space in the complex is more than the number of shops available,” said Joseph Raj, president of the Ayanavaram Association of Hawkers.

Office-bearers of the Chennai Managara Siru Vyabarigal Sangangalin Kootamaipu expect nearly 5,000 hawkers to benefit from the Corporation's initiative to earmark hawking zones in the city.

Its vice-president K. Alagu said only 60 per cent of the vendors in the shopping areas have been accommodated in the complexes. The rent must be reasonable as many of them earn meagre amount.

Y. Arul Doss of National Association of Street Vendors of India is concerned that the vendors might not have the capacity to draw customers, once they are moved into the complexes as there is stiff competition from large malls and showrooms.

Traders say not all of them would move to the new complexes. They cite the Kothvalchavadi market, which continues to function. While some traders sold their allotted shops in Koyambedu, about 300 vendors continue to do business in Kothvalchavadi for fear of losing business if they shifted.

Mushrooming hawkers

The big shopkeepers on Usman Road and Ranganathan Street and around Panagal Park wonder about the possibility of relocation of all hawkers as hundreds of them have mushroomed over the past few years.

According to N. Sukumar, secretary of Ranganathan Street Merchants' Association, the footpath shops are eating into the business of the big shops. “The Supreme Court issued an order a decade ago disallowing footpath shops on Ranganathan Street but nothing has happened,” he said.

T. Sarathy, secretary of Panagal Park and Usman Road Traders Association said, “We are waiting for the allotment process to be completed. As of now, the Corporation officials have issued tokens only.” Mr.Sarathy, who is a member of the team participating in the consultation programme to improve T. Nagar said “Jones Lang LaSelle Meghraj (JLLM), the consultants for the T.Nagar redevelopment plan has given us a list of 841 footpath shops whereas the Corporation acknowledges only 206 shops.”

Corporation officials said while vendors of perishable goods would be given 30 sq.ft. of space, others would be given 25 sq.ft. Action would be initiated against the allottees who continue to have shops on pavements. They, however, added that a decision on mobile vendors would be taken later. Though nearly 60 traders at Aminjikarai have been allotted space in the nearby complex, they are yet to move in.

They have also identified 30 locations in the city such as Pantheon Road and Mylapore for regularising street-vending. Nearly 600 vendors must occupy the designated locations within 15 days, they said.

What they say

M. Subramanian, Mayor:

We expect a smooth traffic flow in the shopping areas in a couple of weeks. The process to give identification cards to the allottees is on. Once the hawkers shift to the complexes, street vending will not be allowed. Chennai Corporation, with police department, will take action against those who continue to sell wares on streets.

Subha Baskar, a resident of Natesan Street, T.Nagar:

Shifting the shops to a single location would leave the footpath free for pedestrians. It will also prevent hawkers from blocking the by-lanes. Once the footpath shops are shifted no one else should be allowed to occupy the place. It will help if the auto rickshaws are also prevented from parking wherever they please. Now even the big shops spread their wares on the footpath. This should be prevented. The smaller lanes should not be used for parking autorickshaws and cars.

S.Sekar, a hawker:

In Ayanavaram, the newly constructed complex does not have provisions for draining of water used for cleaning vegetables. The drainage and power supply connections are yet to be given. There is a need for adequate number of toilets in the shopping complex. Partition between the shops has not been made. Some of us have requested for shops with 35 sq. ft. space for all the beneficiaries. But the space available is not likely to be adequate.

(With input from K. Lakshmi, Aloysius Xavier Lopez and R. Sujatha)