Residents say farm-fresh shops open late, queues are long and produce is sometimes rotten

Shops opening as late as 9.30 a.m., long queues, cramped spaces and slow-moving billing lines — a host of problems plague the newly-opened farm-fresh vegetable outlets across the city.

A total of 29 outlets were opened by the State government last week, and they sell vegetables at prices lower than the market rates.

Poor logistics

Visits to outlets in Anna Nagar, Shenoy Nagar, Thoraipakkam, Teynampet, R.V. Nagar, Indira Nagar, R. A. Puram and Periyar Nagar among others, revealed that the logistics for delivery of vegetables is poor.

Many residents, who visited the outlets as part of their morning walk, said they found them locked. “Usually vegetable shops open by 6 a.m. but these outlets only started functioning at 9 a.m. Their timings are supposed to be 8 a.m. to noon and again from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., which in itself is unusual,” said V. Subramanian, a resident of Indira Nagar.

On Monday morning, customers patiently waited outside the shops for the vegetables to be unloaded and readied for sale.

Many of them had to visit the outlets several times before they could do their buying, while some others did not get to buy anything, as the shops did not receive their stock of vegetables until 10.30 a.m.

K.S. Raman, a resident of Anna Nagar, said he had been going home empty-handed for the past three days.

“I was trying to save money by buying my vegetables here, but I probably spent more on fuel just to get here so many times,” he said.

A shortage of staff members, very few billing machines, lack of adequate change and poor arrangements to display vegetables were other problems residents complained about.

In most outlets, the crowds had not thinned out even by 1.15 p.m. One outlet in R.V. Nagar near Kodungaiyur was overflowing with at least 50 customers.

Jayanthi, a resident of Madhavaram, who went there at 10 a.m., said she only managed to finish her purchases at close to 1.30 p.m., because of the long queues at the billing machines.

Also, as the shops get vegetables only once a day, there is not much stock left over for customers who come after 4 p.m.

Quality, not great

“The vegetables don’t seem to be of the best quality. For instance, the potatoes, beans and carrots that the staff say are from Ooty don’t seem to be of the standard that one expects from vegetables there. There are more bruised and rotten vegetables than fresh ones on the trays. They are also not sorted properly. Since the vegetables are frozen, they have excess moisture on them, which means they will rot quickly,” said Arumugam, an autorickshaw driver from T. Nagar at the Teynampet outlet.

Though 31 varieties of vegetables are being sold at the outlets, green chillies and the local variety of tomatoes are not to be found.

In what residents consider an unfair distribution, north Chennai does not have as many outlets as the south. Of the 29 outlets, barely 10 are in the north. Many women in the northern neighbourhood have to walk 3-4 km to reach a shop.

“We walk and to wait just to save around Rs. 30. I don’t know if we can do this every day,” said M. Saraswati of Muthamizh Nagar near Kodungaiyur.

Staff shortage

Employees of various outlets said they are already overburdened with work, as they have to distribute rice for Rs. 20 per kg in addition to their duties at the shop.

“We need at least two more employees here to manage the crowds,” said one employee.

Officials said the outlets have sold over 50,000 kg of vegetables over the past four days. Most vegetables for the outlets are sourced from five districts.

Coriander leaves, curry leaves, chillies and ginger are procured from Koyambedu wholesale market.

“All our vegetables come to Koyambedu from where they are transported to the Teynampet outlet, where they are weighed and sorted. This delays the delivery to the outlets. We are trying to improve the logistics. The quantities will also be increased to overcome shortages,” said an official.

‘Keep vegetable outlets open on Sunday’

Sunday was a lucky day for K. Bhaktavatsalam, a resident of Thoraipakkam. He managed to shop at the farm-fresh TUCS outlet in Secretariat Colony, which was one of only two outlets open in the city on Sunday.

“Though I spent about an hour-and-a-half shopping, I got a week’s supply for just Rs. 217,” he said. Residents of Secretariat Colony had requested the TUCS to keep the outlet open on Sundays and instead, make Tuesday a holiday.

But residents of other areas were not so lucky. When S. Subbulakshmi, a school teacher from Krishnapuri when to the outlet in R. A Puram on Sunday it was locked. “Since I work on weekdays, I don’t have time to buy vegetables daily,” so I carefully plan my week and keep a week’s stock in the fridge,” she said.

S. Jagannathan, a resident of Abhiramapuram, said the low-cost vegetable shops opened recently by the State government must remain open on Sundays. “This is hardly the way to run vegetable shops. “How can you close them on Sundays? “Many people buy vegetables on Sundays in bulk and store them for the week ahead,” he said.

Sources at TUCS said that Sundays were a weekly holiday for their employees. However, steps would be taken to keep the outlets open for a few hours on Sundays.

Beans, tomatoes now slightly more affordable

Prices of some of the expensive vegetables at the Koyambedu wholesale market have seen a slight dip, compared to last week. However, this has not been felt at the retail markets as yet.

Traders at the Koyambedu market said the cost of vegetables such as beans, tomatoes, beetroots and broad beans had come down by Rs. 2 to Rs. 5 over the past week.

The dip is mainly due to the rains, following the onset of the southwest monsoon in Kerala and Karnataka. Consumers though are yet to reap the benefits as these vegetables are priced above Rs. 30 a kg in the retail market.

The opening of Farm Fresh outlets has not affected sales in retail vegetable shops. Selvakumar, a retail trader said his shop had not lost any of its regular customers. Many of them refrain from visiting the government’s outlets as there are long queues,

Wholesale traders said one kg of ginger is now being sold at Rs. 180 in retails shops. Prices of vegetables are expected to drop substantially in July when the Koyambedu market gets more produce. The market now receives only 400 lorry-loads of produce daily compared to the usual 500 lorry-loads.

(With inputs from K. Lakshmi, Deepa H. Ramakrishnan and Serena Josephine M.)

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