At a time when vegetable prices are hitting the roof, residents of apartment complexes in some areas are able to buy fresh produce at lower rates, that too, at their doorstep. Starting this month, persons with visual impairment and physical disabilities have been visiting large residential complexes with fresh produce. On alternate days, a small group of people also turn a space at a complex in Anna Nagar into a makeshift market.

This novel effort was initiated by Ahimsa charitable trust, a city-based voluntary organisation working towards improving the economic status various sections of society, especially farmers. At present, the teams also cover apartment complexes in Sterling Road, Teynampet and Royapettah.

K. Sugantha, a resident of Anna Nagar West, is glad that the vegetables are cheaper by at least Rs.5. The cost of vegetables has escalated over the past two months. Ginger is the costliest with one kg being sold at Rs.175-Rs.200. But, the group sells it for Rs.140-150. Brinjals that otherwise cost Rs.38 are sold for Rs.25 per kg.

“I save a minimum of Rs.20 when I buy from the group. The vegetables are also fresh and I save on travel time too,” she said. Residents have suggested that the team bring more fruits and add more vegetables to their stock. The teams are able to sell vegetables at such low rates as they are procured from farmers’ clubs set up by the trust in Tiruvannamalai, Tirunelveli, Kancheepuram and Tiruvallur. The trust had set up such clubs in several districts to prevent mass suicides in 1996. Nearly 5.37 lakh farmers are now part of the clubs in over 5,000 villages across the State.

E. Ayyanar, a person with visual impairment and a graduate in Tamil, said: “I have partial vision. I help with weighing vegetables and billing. I was frantically searching for a job after completing my degree when I heard about this work. I visit three or four complexes daily and finish work around 5 p.m.,” he said.

The vendors are paid a salary of Rs. 7,500 a month and their food and lodging is taken care of by the trust.

Teams comprising two persons with visual impairment start their day at 8 a.m. and spend two or three hours in each area selling the produce procured from farmers. Residents, who initially hesitated to buy vegetables, are now suggesting more additions to the list of items, said Ayyanar.

As of now, the teams are selling nearly 40 tonnes daily. The trust’s managing director R. Kanagaraj said that both farmers and customers benefit from the project. “We offer farmers at least Rs.2 per kg more than what they get from the wholesale market. We also buy some vegetables that are not produced by farmers in our clubs and sell it at low prices,” he said.

Several unemployed persons were roped in for the project. “We are approaching apartment complexes in north Chennai for space to expand the project,” he added.

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