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Russell Market traders observe a ‘dark’ anniversary

Chitra V. Ramani
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Renovated after fire, iconic market still deprived of power and water supply

SOLDIERING ON:The traders, who spend Rs. 15,000 daily on diesel generators, switched them off on Monday as a symbolic protest.— PHOTO: K. MURALI KUMAR
SOLDIERING ON:The traders, who spend Rs. 15,000 daily on diesel generators, switched them off on Monday as a symbolic protest.— PHOTO: K. MURALI KUMAR

The muted glow of candles played softly on fruits and vegetables in Russell Market here on Monday. Only, there was no romance to it: it was to mark one year since the fire ripped through over 170 shops in the iconic market and to tell the city they have been pretty much left to fend for themselves without electricity and water supply.

On Monday, the 480 traders ditched the diesel generators they depend on for lighting and switched to candles, just for the day.

But even in the semi-darkness, there were shoppers aplenty. They came more for the substantial discounts rather than any display of solidarity.

Exotic fruits were being sold at a discount of up to 20 per cent, while dry fruits and vegetables had almost a third of their prices knocked off.

Renovation costs

Overcoming all odds, the traders’ association here has managed to resurrect the market by spending Rs. 1.75 crore by passing around the hat among themselves. This renovation cost includes Rs. 6 lakh to change the market’s electrical wiring, panelling and installation of new meters in accordance with Bangalore Electricity Supply Company norms. Yet, power supply has not been restored.

Mushtaq, a vegetable trader, said that they were spending Rs. 15,000 daily to run the diesel generators. Fellow trader Mohammed Khaleel, pointing out that even water connection remains cut, said: “What are we supposed to do when there is another fire and there is no water to douse it?”

Mohammed Idrees Choudhury, general secretary of Russell Market Vegetables and Fruit Merchants’ Association, told The Hindu that Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) Council mulled an undertaking from the traders that they would leave the premises to facilitate renovation and then direct the power supply company to restore the power supply.

“We have requested the BBMP to add a few lines to protect the traders’ interest,” he said.

One of the clauses that the traders would like the BBMP to include is that they would be allotted shops in the new market, if the old one is to be demolished. “We have rebuilt the market with our funds. It has been constructed by a Class A contractor; the market is in a better condition today than it was before the fire accident. But we will abide by the BBMP’s decisions,” he said.

Mr. Choudhury said that he hoped the BBMP would provide alternative space for the traders if at all the market has to be reconstructed.

After the fire, the BBMP stopped collecting rent from the traders. The monthly rent, they said, had added up to Rs. 12 lakh.

“We are ready to pay this to the BBMP. Also, with no power supply, Bescom has lost out on revenue amounting to Rs. 60 lakh (Rs. 5 lakh a month),” he said.

CCTVs, fire safety

Meanwhile, Shivajinagar MLA R. Roshan Baig has assured the traders of installing CCTV cameras around the market with his MLA quota funds, besides recruiting a security agency for the market. The Department of Fire and Emergency Services Personnel will create awareness about fire safety and train them in basic fire prevention techniques.

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