Over two decades since its opening at Vellayil, the lone Maveli store in the area has wound up
At the coastal Vellayil, Maveli will give Onam a miss.
Broken, decaying and weather-beaten, the lone Maveli store at Vellayil, an area in the city where over 3,000 fishermen families live elbow-to-elbow, is being quickly dismantled by four men hired by Kerala State Civil Supplies Corporation Ltd. (Supplyco).
“Get out of the way, we want to get this done with,” one of them tells this correspondent.
The dingy interior of the store is filled with an overpowering odour of stale coriander. Rice, green gram, sugar, and dried red chillies lie scattered on the mud floor.
The workers strip the shop of plastic sacks, a rusted weighing machine, and decayed plywood cupboards. A loosely tied, forlorn broom leans against a pockmarked wall advertising Sabari Tea — ‘Metharam chaaya, mithamaaya chaaya.’
On August 2, strong winds ripped off the old building’s tile roof. Over the following days, damage spread when rainwater seeped in despite the blue tarpaulin cover, destroying over 100 sacks of rice and other provisions. This was the second time in a row that stock was getting spoilt this monsoon. The Supplyco had had enough. It decided to pack up and leave forever.
For the store, endearingly called ‘Maveli’ by the local people, this has been a hasty withdrawal from the old neighbourhood.
A permanent fixture in the area for over two decades ever since Supplyco took it on rent, the Maveli had watched over the fishermen, mostly belonging to the below poverty line category. It had replenished their modest kitchen larders, supplying essential food items at highly subsidised rates at a time when food prices are going north.
The store had also provided government schools along the coastline, including Government Fisheries Upper Primary School next door, with rice and provisions for the free afternoon meal served for children, almost all of them hailing from financially backward families.
“This is the only Maveli store on the 10-km coastal stretch from Puthiyappa to Mukadhar,” says M. Manoharan, the store’s long-serving manager.
The storm proved a boon for the building owner, who had been waiting for a chance to evict the store. Ties were strained after an eviction notice. All the stock meant for the coastal people here will be dumped at the Beypore depot and distributed to stores elsewhere,” Mr. Manoharan says over the sound of crashing waves from the beach opposite.
But local people such as M.A. Rahman, president of the Coastal People Welfare Committee, say the crisis has been a long time in coming.
Their efforts to move the Maveli store to the nearby Vellayil Community Resource Centre had few people listening.
Letters to the Chief Minister’s mass contact programme and the Sutharya Keralam office merely reaped one-line replies acknowledging receipt. Mangal Das, a resident, takes out a thick bunch of letters from a plastic cover to prove the point.
The resource centre, owned by the Fisheries Department, was built in 2011 to rehabilitate tsunami-hit families. The building lies unused, haunted by anti-social elements after dark.
The Fisheries Department says guidelines do not permit it to use the building for anything other than tsunami welfare programmes. A letter from the Fisheries Joint Director in October 2011 concludes that “special permission” of the government may be required.
“No, the guidelines do not allow a Maveli store in the centre,” says C. Ahmedkutty, Deputy Director, Fisheries, Kozhikode.
The Supplyco, however, is willing to shift to the centre.
“The poor are caught in the middle of this bureaucratic to-and-fro. Is it not our right to access food at affordable rates? Which guideline can prevent a citizen from the basic right to food?” says K. Vivekanandan, a Vellayil resident.
“All the families in the coastal belt of Vellayil depended on this Maveli store. Now, they will have to travel long distances for basic food and nutrition. This community resource centre is meant for fishermen families. There is no harm in making a compromise in the guidelines to accommodate the Maveli store there,” says Mayor A.K. Premajam.
Meanwhile, Surayya C., who did not know about the store moving out of the neighbourhood, asks the store manager: “When will we see Maveli again?”