CHENNAI: A question mark hangs over the operations of the Koyambedu wholesale market following reports that three people there -- two truck drivers and a coriander vendor -- are suspected to have tested positive for COVID-19.
During a market management committee meeting, it was decided to split it into three markets in Madhavaram, Koyambedu and Kolapakkam. A decision to this effect will be finalised on Saturday, said S Chandran, Market Management Committee Licensed Merchants Association President and Anaithu Sangankalin Kootamaipu general secretary.
He told The New Indian Express that three persons -- two lorry drivers from Maharashtra and a coriander trader -- have tested postive for COVID-19. However, corporation officials said that tests in this regard are on and have not been confirmed yet.
Demanding that all traders and workers should be tested for the coronavirus, Chandran said the two truck drivers from Maharashtra, who initially tested negative in their home state, had given fresh samples before proceeding to Chennai. These truck drivers were transporting fruits to the Koyambedu fruit market.
After the second round of tests in Maharashtra confirmed that they have been infected with the coronavirus, the police control room there informed police officials in Chennai and the two drivers were quarantined.
He said the third person to have been infected is not a regular trader. He used to come to the market and sell a few sacks of coriander before leaving for home. "We believe he would have contracted the virus from near his home," said Chandran.
To a query on whether all the traders and workers should be tested, he said that he has been demanding this since the lockdown was implemented. "As it is a place for public gathering, everyone should be tested," he said.
Bhaskar, an onion trader in Koyambedu, said when a person is infected by the coronavirus, the entire area and the people working there are quarantined. "Sadly no steps have been taken in this regard. Why did the market not move to an open space after the lockdown was introduced? On the one hand, the state is promoting social distancing but on the other hand, it is encouraging overcrowding in the market," he says.
Fearing that his aged parents would get infected, Bhaskar has been avoiding the market for more than a week and echoes the opinion of the majority of traders.
Interestingly, city police commissioner A K Viswanathan had been requesting the market association to spread the market over three different places to avoid crowding since the lockdown was announced, said police sources, adding that the Market Management Committee was reluctant.
However, the fault also lies with the market not being handed over to the corporation despite then Municipal Administration and Water Supply (MAWS) secretary Phanindra Reddy asking the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority to do so in 2015.
"Being a development agency, CMDA is required to take up development works envisaged in the masterplan. As CMDA does not have the required manpower or financial capabilities and is not empowered under the Tamil Nadu Town and Country Planning Act to continue operating such development projects, the possibility of transfer of the market and Chennai Mofussil Bus Terminus to the corporation needs to be considered," according to the minutes of the meeting held on September 28, 2015 accessed by Express.
At that time, the meeting has asked the corporation to study the provision of the Tamil Nadu Specified Commodities Markets (Regulation and Location) Act, 1996, to be examine whether statutory powers are available to hand over the Koyambedu market to the corporation.
Even Corporation Commissioner Prakash during a press briefing recently expressed his inability to shift the Koyambedu market to an open space as it comes under the CMDA.
The market continues to remain under an agency which lacks manpower and is best suited to work on urban planning, which has resulted in the failure to segregate it and made traders, workers and the public unsafe, said a former planner. It is time the government looks into the MAWS department suggestion and implements it, he added.