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Losing bloom

Deepa H. Ramakrishnan

Flower vendors unable to pass on costs to consumers



Stringing for a living Vendors on the roadside in Triplicane.

A decade ago, two flower sellers in front of a famous supermarket on Radhakrishnan Salai sold flowers at Rs.10 a cubit. Their speciality was that the flowers were strung so closely and tightly that the banana fibre cold not be seen: people would buy from them on very special occasions only, because five cubit lengths (mozham) of strung flowers could be bought for Rs.10 then.

In the peak of summer one could even purchase 10 cubit lengths for Rs.10. Cut to today: on Friday, one cubit length of flowers in T. Nagar cost Rs.10 or Rs. 12.

“On ‘muhurtham’ days and on Thursdays and Fridays the demand is high and wholesale sellers charge higher prices and that forces us to increase our prices too. There are days when we sell three cubit lengths for Rs.10. The prices keep fluctuating through the week and through the day,” says Usha, who sells flowers near Anna Salai.

Flower sellers say the cost of stringing flowers, the cost of thread, plastic covers and transportation to the customers have all gone up, but they can’t always pass on the costs. “Over the years, the prices of flowers have increased only marginally but related items have become costlier,” says Indrani, who earns about Rs.100 on a good day. Her husband, who works as a watchman earns Rs.2,500 a month.

They pay Rs. 1,000 goes towards house rent, Rs. 200 for electricity and Rs. 100 for a cable TV connection. Though she has married off her three children she has to look after her grandchildren, who stay with her.

Ponnamma says, “We string up to 10 ser (one ser is equal to 300 gm) of flowers and make Rs.100 a day which is vital to our families’ survival. I have been stringing flowers from the time when it was 25 paise for a cubit length. We have been forced to increase our rates since everything from the price of rice to bus tickets to clothes have gone up."

She lives on the pavement with her family. J.R. Manoharan, a member of a city-based flower vendors association, says, “Daily wage workers demand Rs. 100 per day for picking flowers. We usually take one acre plots cultivated with flowering plants on lease for two months. Earlier owners used to lease an acre at Rs.25,000 or so. But now the lease amount has increased to a whopping Rs.1.5 lakh.”

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