Entrenched mafia that has carved out territory for itself fleeces poor vendors, labourers
The arrest of Sudhamanagar councillor Avvai in a bribery case has exposed the vulnerability of roadside vendors and small businesspersons in the K.R. Market area struggling to make ends meet.
The idli vendor, who was fed up with an extortionate power structure and contacted the Lokayukta police who trapped the councillor, was earning barely Rs. 200 to Rs. 300 a day. Hundreds like him endure harassment by the police and politicians on the one hand, and gangsters who force them to pay protection money to keep their business running. Besides the Rs. 20 to Rs. 100 they pay these extortionists, hawkers and vendors also are forced to hand over whatever they are selling free to this mafia.
Recently, the police arrested some moneylenders on the charge of humiliating, harassing, intimidating and collecting exorbitant interest rates from their borrowers, who are mainly small flower and vegetable vendors, footpath vendors and autorickshaw drivers, who have no dependable collateral to approach banks. In local parlance, this kind of interest rate is ‘meter baddi’, in which interest is calculated on a daily basis.
Under this system, a vendor operating in and around K.R. Market, Kalasipalya, Chamarajpet and Avenue Road, who borrows Rs. 1,000 in the morning has to repay Rs. 1,200 by evening. In fact, they are forced to borrow from the local don; otherwise they are not allowed to carry out their business in the area, police said. The hapless clientele soon find themselves caught in a quicksand of debt.
An offence but…
Charging such high rate of interest is an offence under the Karnataka Moneylenders Act 1961, Karnataka Money Lenders Rules 1965, Karnataka Pawn Brokers Act 1961, Karnataka Pawn Brokers Rules 1966, Karnataka Prohibition of Charging of Exorbitant Interest Act 2004 and The Prize Chits and Money Circulation scheme (Banning) Act 1978, but because of the mafia’s stranglehold, victims hesitate to approach the police, Central Crime Branch officials said. There is some desultory police action in arresting moneylenders for suicide abetment but the CCB admits that meter baddi continues unabated with police, gangsters and local politicians having a share in the pie.
All for protection
The K.R. Market has several godfathers who have carved out the territory among themselves. “Anyone who earns a living in market needs to share a portion of his earnings with the area goon in return for protection,” said a member of the K.R. Market Merchants’ Association.
Apart from paying off the police and politicians, footpath vendors have to pay a whopping Rs.1 lakh as ‘goodwill’ to the local goon.
The lorries that bring loads of fruits and vegetables every day have to get the local goon’s nod to hire hamalis (head-load workers) to unload the cargo. The hamali gets Rs. 5 for every sack, of which he has to give Re. 1 to the goon. Any driver who doesn’t fall in line is not allowed to unload his lorry. Considering some 40,000 sacks are unloaded every day in and around K.R. Market, the mafia makes a tidy sum. “They make more money than software engineers,” a merchants’ association member said.
Certainly everyone involved — police, politicians, mafia — shares the spoils. As the business is very lucrative, gangs have fought and its members killed in the internecine war over territory.