NEW DELHI: This year in the month of April, Delhi’s development Minister Gopal Rai passed a budget of Rs 477 crore for the development of mandis in the national capital. But despite the allocation of funds, the situation on the ground has not changed a bit. The Sunday Guardian visited Asia’s largest vegetable mandi, Azadpur mandi. The mandi is spread over 79.83 acres of land and daily it caters to thousands of visitors coming from around the nation. But the drinking water facility in the mandi is in a deplorable condition.
There are 28 drinking water facilities in the mandi and according to locals, these facilities serve dirty and salty water. Kamlesh Sahni, who is working as a labourer in the mandi for the last decade, was drinking water from one of the drinking water facilities; he looked unhappy while drinking water. He said: “Water is always salty and has a bad taste and it has a bad smell. But what can I do, I am poor, and I can’t afford packaged drinking water. I am obliged to drink this water.”
Baban Singh, who also works as a labourer, said: “I have never sipped clean water from piaous.” The Sunday Guardian went to various drinking water facilities in the mandi and the condition was the same. An illegal racket of selling drinking water in the market is also active, where unauthorized motors are installed to extract water from the ground. “This is all illegal and they are selling water to poor labourers,” said Nishant Gulati, a social activist. He further said that this nexus is run by the support of “powerful people”.
Every year, lakhs of rupees are spent on the maintenance of these piaous. According to details accessed via minutes of the meeting of the market committee, Rs 19.76 lakh were allocated in 2020 for improvement and maintenance of piaous in the mandi.
Urinal facilities in the mandi are also in an abysmal condition. Blockage, cow dung and littering are common scenes in the majority of toilets in the mandi. There are a total of 48 urinal toilets in the mandi and more than 20 are in a very bad condition. According to locals, at night these facilities become hubs for criminal activity in mandi. “The department has spent lakhs of rupees for maintenance of their toilets. What about us?” Nishant Gulati asked. “According to the minutes of meetings, Rs 28.90 lakh were spent for the renovation of office toilets in 2019, but nothing concrete has been done for public urinals in the mandi,” Gulati said. Choking of vehicles has become common in the mandi. Long jams are a common scene. Mahaveer Singh, a transporter, told The Sunday Guardian, “Unauthorized parking on both sides of the road blocks traffic. Apart from this, sanitation and cleaning facilities in the mandi are also in a bad condition.”
Heaps of cow dung and garbage can be seen on every corner and roads in the mandi. This not only invites bad odour, but also many diseases. “They say, they are spending crores of rupees on sanitation and cleanliness, but I think not even a penny is being spent on the ground,” said Mahaveer. He also questioned why APMC is not acting against illegal parking in the mandi.
Anil Malhotra, a vegetable trader and elected member of the mandi committee, further accused APMC of irregularities. “This mandi is a market of national importance. Both farmers and labourers have worked hard to make it Asia’s largest vegetable and fruit market. We traders only spend a few hours in the mandi, but these labourers live 24X7 in the mandi, it is very sad that APMC has failed to provide the basic necessity like water,” said Malhotra. He further accused the APMC of corruption. On paper, there are a total of 400 security guards but on the ground, only 100 are seen doing duty. “Why are they not putting in place a robust system for their attendance,” Malhotra asked. The Sunday Guardian talked to a senior officer in APMC, to know his take on the situation. “Overpopulation in mandi is a big problem, but our department is working to address problems inside mandi. We are working on Tikri Khampur mandi and soon the mandi will shift there, which is large in size compared to Azadpur,” the official said. In 2017, while presenting the budget, Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia announced that the work to set up a new market in Tikri will be completed by 2019, but later the deadline was shifted to 2023.