Extortion gangs have been forcing hawkers to shell out money on a weekly basis
Certain groups are partly redefining the dynamics of commerce on the Marina. These are extortion gangs that demand money from vendors for letting them ply their trade. These groups – which call themselves sangams – have put a payment system in place. Every week, a vendor has to part with Rs. 30 as protection money.
Sometimes, vendors end up paying this pre-set weekly amount to more than one extortion group. “When I set up shop five years ago, I paid Rs. 5,000 to a person who designated the spot where I could set up shop. Today, there are many more gangs. They have divided the beach among themselves and each gang exercises control over shops in their section,” said a sandwich maker.
A vendor of soft drinks, who has been working on the beach for ten years, said that he had to pay money every Sunday although the groups made an exemption if business had been bad that week. “They come with notebooks and bags and collect the money. We agree to pay as we are afraid that our livelihood may be affected. Earlier, we used to have rowdies but now we are controlled by these groups which have political clout. However, when we face problems such as eviction threats from the police or the Corporation, the sangams do not help us in any way as they are not official,” he said.
A month ago, Aavin waded into the commerce at the Marina, unaware that it was influenced by these extortion gangs. The milk cooperative launched an ambitious scheme to sell ice cream at the beach using tricycles. However, turf wars involving local extortion gangs and private ice cream sellers cast a shadow over the effort.
And recently, Aavin employees, who have been selling ice cream on the beach since July 1, got into an altercation with members of the extortion gangs after the latter demanded money from them.
“A few men demanded money from our employees. They said that the tricyles should not be parked in the area as they had not paid money. Our employees refused and a quarrel ensued which ended in fisticuffs. We took the matter to the Marina police and officials warned the residents not to interfere with Aavin as it was a government agency,” said a source.
Private ice cream vendors on the Marina have also objected to Aavin’s new scheme and claimed that their business was being affected. ,” said another source. Each of Aavin’s tricycles has been selling ice cream worth Rs. 1,200 on weekdays and in the Rs. 2,000 a day during weekends.