“Chemicals and the toxic emissions from the repair shops are the main polluters of both the ground and the water as the market is right by the river,” explains toxicologist Khatuna Akhalaia, adding that the dangerous acids coming out of old vehicles and accumulators, many fdating back to the Soviet times, flow directly into the soil and sewage.
Proposals to move the market in a new location, with appropriate environmental and safety measures, find many in agreement but vendors ask for economic reassurances. Just like Ziraqadze, Eliava is Tamaz Khelashvili’s only source of income. The 61-year-old father of two used to disassemble cars, now he has a stall in the market where he sells vehicles’ second-hand parts.
“Why should this market be moved elsewhere? People work here, they have families to feed. If it is moved we’ll have no choice but to follow to earn money for living.”
Stallholders like Khelashvili and Ziraqadze however have no saying in the plans - whatever they are.
Negotiations with the market owners are open, but despite only one meeting was held and no decision was taken, Tbilisi’s City Hall stated in a press note. Two options are on the table: one foresees the development of the existing infrastructure, the other the relocation of the market. In the latter there no alternative area has been identified yet. The ownership of the gargantuan market is split by five large companies, which own most of it, and a plethora of smaller companies with up to five shops.
In March 2019 the approved General Plan for Land Use of Tbilisi, which defines all the parameters for the capital’s development, stated the need for additional research to define Eliava’s future.
“In the plan preference is given to recreational areas and greenery, but next steps can be taken only once the research is over,” says Mamuka Saluqvadze, the director of “City Institute,” a private company which worked with the city hall on the city plan. “We provided recommendations but the Eliava is a private property, the final decision lies with the owners and the city hall.”
The uncertainty benefits no one. The Trading Center Didube LTD owns about a third of the market and has about 3,000 leaseholder; Nugzar Imnaishvili, the company’s technical director, maintains that owners are trying to upgrade their areas.
“We have no idea when and how the project will be defined, so we’ve started developing our own parts of the territory. We’ve already built a stadium and our vision is to have a shopping center with both recreational and green areas. We applied to the City Hall in April (2019) but we have received no response yet.
Kakhiani, who is also at the helm of Tata LTD, agrees - Eliava should stay just where it is and restored.
“The reclaim plans should affect no one, neither the owners nor the leaseholders. If the market is relocated to say, Avtchala, it will lose all the customers. Maybe they could move only those selling second-hand parts,” says Kakhiani whose 180 leaseholders trade mainly in furniture, employing a total of 540 people.