|The closed market on Wednesday. Picture by Chinlop Fudong Lepcha|
Kalimpong, May 17: For the first time in living memory, the historic market in the heart of the town remained closed on a haat day as traders shut shop to protest against the municipal authorities for not clearing the accumulated garbage in the area.
The bi-weekly vegetable market or haat is held every Wednesday and Saturday at Haatbazar here.
The episode is seen by many as a fall out of the recent Assembly elections, with certain sections accusing the GNLF, which controls the civic body, of being vindictive after its winning candidate Gaulan Lepcha did not perform particularly well in the area. Municipality chairman C.K. Kumai, however, rubbished the charge and instead accused his rivals of trying to defame him and his party.
“We were not singling out any political party. Our protest was directed against the civic body and its failure to perform its duty,” said Ravi Pradhan, secretary of the Himalayan Bepari Sangatan, a trade union wing of the GNLF. He, however, made it clear that if the authorities continue to treat the traders shabbily, they would launch a bigger movement.
Kumai, on his part, claimed: “Our conservancy vehicles collect waste thrice a day and the town is very clean.”
This morning, hundreds of traders took out a procession demanding the immediate clearance of the garbage that had accumulated near the market. A little later, two trucks belonging to the conservancy wing of the civic body arrived and collected the waste.
The traders, however, decided against opening their shops as it was already too late in the day. Instead, they will hold the haat tomorrow.
On haat days, transactions worth Rs 10 lakh take place in the market as the number of people plying their trade there goes up from 400 to around 1,500. What makes the haat special is the availability of produce unique to the hills — like dalle khorsani (round chillies), kinema (fermented soyabean) and gundruk (made of dried green vegetables) — that are brought by villagers from the hinterland.
The haat had begun way back in 1886 and till the mid twentieth century, traders from Tibet used to take part in it. In fact, there have been talks of securing world heritage status for it. There are 433 registered stalls in the ramshackle market comprising tinned shades, most of them remnants of the British era.