The shopping hub gears up to welcome lakhs of visitors for ‘Aadi Sale’ even as questions on violation of building codes and safety norms remain unanswered

Banners announcing ‘Aadi’ discount rates in loud colours have made their annual appearance in T. Nagar. About eight months after the Chennai Corporation and the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) locked and sealed 25 unauthorised buildings housing popular shopping outlets, it is business as usual in the commercial hub of Chennai.

Shop owners moved the Madras High Court and later, the Supreme Court which ruled that they must be given a fair hearing before they were locked and sealed. In January this year, the Supreme Court ordered the unsealing of stores for Pongal festival.

The matter is still sub judice with the Madras High Court giving the State government time to announce its policy on the recommendations of the Justice S. Mohan Committee on regularisation of unauthorised buildings in the state. “The next hearing, scheduled for July 24, is awaited,” said S.R. Srinivasan of Rathna Stores.

Meanwhile, it’s time for ‘Aadi Sale’ (the Tamil month begins on July 16). In another week, big and small showrooms along Usman Road and Ranganathan Street will turn shopper-magnets, drawing thousands to the area every day.

From “lots of choice” and “tempting discounts” to “it’s festival time” — reasons abound for shoppers to indulge in ‘Aadi Sale’.

Fire safety thrown to winds

But, what shoppers, perhaps, forget is that the noise around the shopping carnival suppresses crucial questions on fire safety. While some of the bigger showrooms have visible fire-fighting equipment, several of them are not completely equipped.

Last year, the Tamil Nadu Fire and Rescue Services (TNFRS), inspected over 100 buildings in the shopping hub and found that not a single building adhered to all the fire safety norms.

TNFRS also submitted a report to the CMDA in this regard. “I don’t think store owners have taken any significant steps to address this issue in the last few months. Things stand as they were,” a senior TNFRS official said.

Enquiries with electricians and carpenters engaged by the stores revealed that the stores continued functioning out of their old premises, without making any modification to the existing structure that was found violating building and fire safety norms. “Everything is smooth here and business is looking up,” said a worker employed by a popular apparel store on Ranganathan Street.

Asked whether steps were taken to address the lack of fire safety, Mr. Srinivasan, son of P.S. Rathnam Nadar, president of the Ranganathan Street Merchants Association, said: “All the stores are doing the needful to adhere to the rules.”

CMDA sources, too, pointed to the upcoming High Court hearing. An official said, “It is unlikely that store owners will do anything much to rectify the building violation now. They will wait for the hearing.”

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