Even though it’s celebration time with Deepavali just a fortnight away, there is a distinct lack of enthusiasm among traders selling firecrackers.
A total of 120 temporary stalls with asbestos roofs are being put up on Island Grounds for the sale of firecrackers, but traders at Parry’s Corner, who are making periodic trips to the venue, are not happy with the arrangements.
The shopkeepers are upset with the allotted space. Abdul Rahim, a retailer who has a shop on Badrian Street, has not yet rented a stall on Island Grounds. “Our experience in 2011 has made us wary of renting a stall this time,” said Abdul Rahim, a retailer.
“Back then, it rained and we had to put up our wares on bullock carts and on tables. The clayey soil prevents absorption of water and leaves slush behind. The shamianas that had been erected leaked, and a lot of our crackers were damaged in the rain,” he said.
Also, the traders said the space allocated for cracker shops on the grounds is closer to the military grounds, on the banks of the Cooum. Six temporary wooden bridges have been constructed to access the shops from the War Memorial-end.
The Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation (TTDC), which owns the property, had called for tenders for the setting up of stalls in September. “TTDC asked us take the entire 4 lakh sq. ft area for setting up stalls but we wanted only 80,000 sq. ft.,” said Syed Ibrahim of Kwality Plasto Pak, a member of Chennai Metro Fireworks Dealers Association.
Since no fire cracker association came forward to set up the stalls, the tender was issued to the highest bidder. The bidder has decided to hold a fair, which will include food courts and entertainment, between October 12 and November 3. Deepavali falls on November 2.
The traders are worried that in the event of a mishap at the fair, they will be blamed. “It was to ensure the safety of customers that we agreed to move to Island grounds for cracker sales. A spark from the food court can start a blaze at the shops. The wooden bridges may also give way under the weight of fleeing people,” said Mr. Rahim.
K.A.T. Balu, whose organisation has rented 41 shops on Island grounds, however, said the arrangements were good.
The Chennai Metro Fireworks Dealers Association and Chennai Fireworks Dealers Welfare Association have gone to court over this issue.
In their petition, they have raised concerns such as safety, security and poor quality of soil where the stalls have currently been put up. The case will come up for hearing on October 21. Until then, a bulk of the firecrackers will remain in godowns on the outskirts of the city, said Mr. Ibrahim.