Unauthorised fish stalls at Mukkom raise a stink

Buying fish at Mukkom panchayat can be injurious to health. Just visit the narrow, sloping public road connecting the Orphanage Road with the Mukkom Bus Stand Road. It hosts the Thazhekode village office, the panchayat office, the Krishi Bhavan and the Kudumbasree CDS offices. The panchayat library and reading room, the press forum and local MLA P. Moinkutty’s camp office share space on this road.

For all these offices, the view is the same. Dead fish. Unauthorised fish stalls have taken over the arterial road. Trucks supplying fish to the stalls block the street. Waste water from these vehicles flows onto the road. Come mid-day, when sales peak, the place reeks. Ice on which the fish is kept on the tables melts and forms puddles in the street. When the stalls are cleaned, water is swept into the public drain, already overflowing.

Students use the road to reach schools run by the Mukkom Muslim Orphanage nearby, gingerly stepping over the puddles, covering their noses. Worshippers heading for the Thazhekode Juma Masjid meet with the same fate.

Warnings unheeded

Warnings have proved useless. Health inspectors had warned the Mukkom panchayat of the risk to public health. They had asked the panchayat to put a stop to the stall keepers canvassing customers by putting tables on the road.

An order by Justice M.N. Krishnan, Ombudsman to the Local Self-Governing Bodies, on January 10, 2012, to stop sales on the public road is openly flouted. “The Ombudsman had ordered the panchayat secretary to monitor whether the stalls are encroaching on the road or causing a public health risk by dumping waste in public spaces. It had instructed the local body to seek police assistance if the stall keepers resisted. But this order is openly violated. Ironically, it is being done right in front of the panchayat office,” K. Balakrishnan, a social activist based in Mukkom, said.

Mukkom panchayat secretary A.P. Sanal Kumar explains why the local body is helpless. “The land opposite the stalls was once the fish market. Battle lines were drawn between the fish sellers and the panchayat five years ago when we evicted them to build a double-storey building. They were promised alternative space. But none was given,” Mr. Kumar said candidly.

So, the fish sellers rented space in the opposite building. When the panchayat issued eviction notice, the stall keepers approached the Kerala High Court saying that the local body did not fulfil its promise of an alternative space for them. The court stayed the eviction. Since then, the panchayat maintains a studied silence.

“Whatever it is that is playing between those two (panchayat and fish sellers)… it is the public who is suffering. This is a public health issue and the panchayat has to take responsibility,” Salam Nedukandy, an environment activist, said.

But Mr. Kumar says the stall keepers have been cool to the panchayat’s offers to find another spot. “We had earlier located a private land behind the old bus stand, a few kilometres away. A private party even set up 14 tables for them. But the shopkeepers refused to move,” he said.

Besides, the fund to buy alternative land for the fish market is far from sufficient. It is just Rs.10 lakh. The panchayat needs at least 20 cents to house the market in an accessible place within the town. The fair value price per cent in Mukkom is Rs.4.5 lakh. “It is a deadlock. We cannot do much with just Rs.10 lakh. The panchayat has no authorised market,” Mr. Kumar admits.

V. Abdulla Koya, president of Pothujana Vedi Samithi, said the forum had filed a complaint against the stalls with the Chief Minister’s mass contact programme. “Not one shop in that street is licensed. We tell people not to buy fish from there. It is not safe. But the stall keepers respond by selling it Rs.5 less. People flock to them. So much for protests,” Mr. Koya said.

“I live behind the stalls. There are large waste-filled holes there. Many of my neighbours have sold their land. Nobody wants to take responsibility,” he said.

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