On a Thursday evening, Mohammad Farooque Khan is busy tending to customers at Makkah Cafe in Johnson Market. Some of the customers are evidently regulars and ask “Farooque bhai” for chai or slices of the warm, flaky coconut pastry that has just been delivered fresh from the bakery in big steel trays. Khan’s father used to run a general store in the same market but decided to diversify into a café when the competition became too much. He has been running the café for over 25 years. But now its future — and that of Khan’s — looks uncertain with the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP, the municipal corporation) deciding to “redevelop” 18 of its markets by demolishing and rebuilding them. Johnson Market is one of them.
“Of course, we are worried about what will happen,” Khan says, in between accepting money from clients or directing a worker to serve tea to a waiting customer. Mohammad Siddique Khan, former president of the shopkeepers’ union, who has been running a general store in the market for the last 40 years, says there has been no official communication from BBMP yet. “There is no proper planning on their side,” he says. The market is estimated to be a hundred years old, built when the British were ruling the city, and the architecture follows the Indo-Islamic style.
Murphy Town Market, near Ulsoor, is also a market that came up during the same era. “The market was built mainly to serve the needs of those who worked for the British and who lived in this area. It was originally called Knoxpet but was renamed after the Britisher who designed this area and market,” says Abdul Haleem, general secretary of Murphy Town Market Association and a third-generation proprietor of a general provisions store there. The market is built around a charming reading room and is divided into rows of shops, mostly poultry, mutton and fish (there are several signs for Suguna’s chicken) and a separate section selling beef. But this heritage has not stopped the Bhartiya Janata Party-majority BBMP council from including it in a list of markets to be redeveloped, a decision opposed by the opposition Congress and Janata Dal (Secular).
Mohammad Farooque Khan, who runs Makkah Cafe in Johnson MarketEleven of the 18 markets will be developed as a joint venture with private real estate players, a proposal that rests uneasy with shopkeepers and those keen on conserving the city’s heritage. The idea is to convert some of these markets into malls, parking lots and commercial spaces that would generate more revenue for the perennially cash-strapped BBMP as the current rent from shops in the markets is low. A news report quoted an unnamed BBMP official as giving the example of the monthly total rent of Rs 11,224 generated by around 100 shops in Johnson Market. “If the building was to be razed and a shopping mall constructed, it would fetch huge revenues,” he was quoted as saying. In Murphy Town, rents start at Rs 150. But Haleem says traders are willing to pay double or even triple that amount, if required. “We are ready for negotiations, but they have not called us,” he says.
BBMP Commissioner Lakshminarayan refuses to comment on whether more malls were really the need of the hour for Bengaluru. “If a private player is developing it and BBMP money is not involved, I cannot comment,” he says. The commissioner says that so far the council has approved the plan and it needs to be approved by the state government, after which BBMP would call for expressions of interest to develop the markets. Asked about the fate of heritage structures such as Johnson Market, he says the facade will be retained. This might not be of much comfort to the shopkeepers who fear that if they are evicted, they would not be rehabilitated in a similar area where they could ply their trade.
Of course, not all 18 markets qualify as heritage structures. But even then, there is a certain culture and lifestyle associated with them, says Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) co-convenor Meera Iyer. “Do you want to replace that with a faceless mall?” The way BBMP is approaching the redevelopment is also not right, since they have not consulted the stakeholders, she adds.
INTACH has joined hands with a few concerned individuals in the city and launched a campaign to save the markets from demolition, including a signature campaign and a “Bengaluru Heritage Markets Campaign” page on Facebook. It will also be conducting photowalks through the markets, to document them and spread awareness about the structures.
Photo walk at Murphy Town Market on the morning of December 21.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to register and for more details. Details of the campaign on www.facebook.com/bengaluruheritagemarkets