Steep hike in rent, soil conditions at Island Grounds dissuade 77 traders from Deepavali sales

A number of regular firecracker retailers have opted out of Deepavali sales citing high rent and poor soil conditions at the allotted Island Grounds area.

Of the 117 traders in fireworks, only 40 will put up stalls on the YMCA Royapettah grounds.

The traders said they were asked to pay Rs. 1.5 lakh to set up a shop this year at Island Grounds. The steep hike since last year, when the rent was only Rs. 30,000, besides poor soil conditions had deterred them.

The Madras High Court on Thursday dismissed a petition by the Chennai Metro Fireworks Dealers Association seeking a clarification on a court order of October 7.

In the order, court had dismissed petitions challenging a tender notification TTDC had issued for conducting a ‘mega fair’ at Island Grounds, where, in addition to fire cracker shops, food and garment stalls, an amusement park and car parking were planned.

In the petition, the association had said they should be given priority in the allotment of shops. Instead, TTDC, through a tender process, had allowed a bidder to take overall control of the shops and sub-let them to retailers.

The First Bench said during the hearing of the earlier writ petitions, the additional advocate-general (AAG), P.H. Arvindh Pandian had proposed the dealers could take the entire three lakh sq ft area in Island Grounds at the rate of 65 paise per sq ft a day. But they had refused.

The court had also suggested exploring the possibility of locating the shops on the grounds of Lady Willingdon College campus on Kamarajar Salai. But that suggestion too was rejected citing the single entry and exit points at the college that could result in loss of life in the event of a fire accident. The association was told the members could take the 30 shops that were yet to be allotted at the Island Grounds.

The association once again declined the offer, with members saying the 30 shops would be insufficient to accommodate the 120-odd dealers.

The Bench said the court had already observed that the association members were carrying on commercial activity with a profit motive. There was nothing wrong on the part of TTDC, in whose lands the mega fair is to be held, to take advantage of the location of the temporary shops set up for selling fire crackers and earn through legitimate means, it said. The court dismissed the petition saying it lacked merit.

A. Abu Thahir, a trader on Bunder Street, said, “For 22 years I have been selling firecrackers. I have been renewing my licence annually and in 2011, I could sell crackers only for two days. Last year, the business was good. These developments have affected the dozens of men who find temporary employment during the season,” he said.

Mr. Thahir and a few others like him are pinning their hopes on social activist K.R. Ramaswamy alias ‘Traffic’ Ramasamy, who is expected to file a petition on Friday.

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