Business hit as market continues to be denied power supply

High drama prevailed at Russell Market on Friday afternoon when one of the traders tried to immolate himself by dousing himself with kerosene in protest against the denial of restoration of power supply to the market. The trader identified as G.M. Javed Sait was detained by the Shivajinagar police, who succeeded in thwarting his attempt, for a while.

Mr. Sait told The Hindu that the Russell Market traders were a fed up lot. The power supply to the market was cut off following the major fire that gutted the market on February 25 last year. “We have been managing the show till now without power supply. The number of footfalls to the market has reduced and our business has suffered,” he said.

Each trader spends at least Rs. 2,000 a month as running cost of the diesel generators that light up the market. He also said that most traders are in dire straits and could not even pay their children’s school fees. At the traders’ association meeting on Thursday, nearly 17 traders had admitted to this, he said. He claimed that 10 traders were ready to “sacrifice themselves”. “Instead of dying a little every day, it is better if we die at once. If any one of us dies, the blame should be vested on BBMP and Bescom,” he added.

There are around 2,000 traders in the market, while there are 487 shops. After the fire gutted around 180 shops in the market, the traders pooled in money and renovated it at a cost of Rs. 1.75 crore, including Rs. 7 lakh on changing the electrical wiring. Though the Department of Fire and Emergency Services had issued a No Objection Certificate, the BBMP is yet to direct Bescom to restore power supply.

Mr. Sait said that the traders had since been running from pillar to post trying to get the authorities to give the go-ahead for restoration of power supply. The traders even met Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar two months ago, he (Mr. Shettar) had directed the officials of Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) and Bangalore Electricity Supply Company (Bescom) to ensure that power supply to the market is restored. “However, the local MLA Roshan Baig intervened and prevented this. We do not know why he is taking these decisions that are not in the interest of the traders,” he said.

According to sources, the civic agencies cannot deny power supply as it is a fundamental right guaranteed under Article 19(1) of Constitution. In a case (State of Karnataka v/s Narasimhamurthy), the Supreme Court ruled that Right to Shelter included “adequate living space, safe and decent structure, clean and decent surroundings, sufficient light, pure air and water, electricity, sanitation and other civic amenities like roads etc so as to have access to his daily avocation… In the aforesaid circumstances, request for supply of electricity at the premises in question occupied by the appellant should not be refused.”

Bescom Managing Director P. Manivannan said that the utility would provide power supply only if BBMP directs it to. “The BBMP has to take a call. Bescom cannot take the risk and restore power supply without BBMP’s consent.”

BBMP, it may be mentioned here, has already issued a public notice claiming that the market was in a dilapidated condition and it could not be held responsible if there is any accident in future. There is no change in this stance of the BBMP.

Meanwhile, repeated attempts to contact Mr. Baig went in vain.

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