When the Central Vegetable Market was shifted from near the Meenakshi Sundareswarar temple to Mattuthavani, the Corporation officials claimed that this would help provide a hygienic atmosphere with lot of facilities.

After a prolonged protest, the traders finally came to Mattuthavani in September 2010. No doubt, there were better roads, lighting and clean environment. But, the past 21 months have been a harrowing experience for the retail vegetable traders.

For a little over 500 shops, both authorised and unauthorised ones, that were functioning at the Old market, the Corporation officials, due to pressure from the politicians, constructed 524 permanent shops and a whopping 1,090 floor shops on the lines of Uzhavar Sandhai for retail traders at the new market.

“The influential people have taken shops in the front rows (prime spots) not only for themselves but also for their friends and relatives. The real traders were allotted shops way behind. Over and above, the outsiders who have taken permanent shops have deliberately allowed encroachment on the pathway, roads and platforms where retail sale of vegetables take place denying us business opportunity,” complains M. Thavamani, president of retail traders' association.

“We had only 220 (retail) shops at the old market. But with 1,070 shops at the new market, outsiders have started ruling the business,” he adds.

They had been crying foul over the allocation of shops to politicians, councillors and even to benamis of the Corporation officials.

True to their claim, for the past 21 months, most of the retail shops are seen deserted for want of traders. “Our members, who have paid a deposit of Rs. 50,000, and after paying a monthly rent of Rs. 700, have taken on rent shops from the politicians. But, still we are unable to make both ends meet. Many have left the trade. One of the traders, Thanni Raja committed suicide unable to meet the family expenses,” says the association secretary, P. Pandiarajan.

The wholesale shops are supposed to function between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. From then onwards, the retail business begins and goes up to evening. “But, here the wholesale shops, are rented out to traders without license. After the wholesale business ends, four to five persons are allowed to put up their shops outside the wholesale shops. They encroach upon the roads, pathways and platforms, deny access to customers to enter our area and eat into our business,” he complains. The shops owners take Rs. 50 to Rs. 100 a day from each of the (outsider) trader.

After making many representations in vain to the Corporation officials, the licensed traders sought legal help from the High Court that directed the district Collector and the Corporation Commissioner to remove the encroachment. “Even that is not heeded to by the Corporation officials,” Mr. Thavamani complains.

On Friday morning, the Corporation Commissioner (in-charge), N. Arumuga Nainar, along with the Deputy Commissioner (in-charge) A. Devadoss, raided the market and removed the encroachments. But, within a few minutes after they left, the squatters were back, says Mr. Thavamani. “One of the employees in a shop challenged us claiming that no one can stop them ,” Mr. Pandiarajan said.

The traders say that it was the primary duty of the Corporation is to protect the interests of the licensed traders who were paying rent to the civic body.

They also want the officials to restrict entry of two-wheelers through the Melur Road. Mr. Arumuga Nainar said that surprise checks at the market should be conducted and also proposed to post at least 10 security guards to ensure that no one encroached upon the roads and platforms.

The availability of limited number of pay-and-use toilets (six for men and four for women) at the market where at least 5,000 people come every day was also causing untold suffering to the traders. “We have to wait in queue for at least 30 minutes to attend nature's call. Why do not the Corporation construct more toilets,” he asks. Besides, the Corporation officials were not regular in filling up the tanks meant for supplying drinking water.

Arumuga Nainar, Corporation Commissioner (in-charge): It is proposed to post at least 10 security guards to ensure no encroachments

M. Thavamani, president of retail traders' association: Corporation officials have not heeded to the High Court directive and removed the encroachments

More In: Madurai