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The war over Russell Market

Chitra V. Ramani
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THE DAY IT WENT UP IN FLAMES:Russell Market may not strictly qualify to be a heritage structure but it epitomises the old charm of Bangalore.— FILE Photo: K. Gopinathan
THE DAY IT WENT UP IN FLAMES:Russell Market may not strictly qualify to be a heritage structure but it epitomises the old charm of Bangalore.— FILE Photo: K. Gopinathan

Russell Market may not be a heritage building yet but its iconic status cannot be denied. After a major fire partially gutted the historic market in February, traders there have taken it upon themselves to renovate the damaged portions. They also fought against the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) which wanted to partially demolish the structure and construct a multi-storeyed complex with basement parking.

The traders' struggle to protect their market is not unlike the one taken up by their brethren from Queen's Market in London. For five long years, the traders there, who came together to form the Friends of Queen's Market, fought against redevelopment plans proposed by the Newham Council. They started a petition to protect the 110-year-old market and collected over 12,000 signatures. Bowing to public outcry against the redevelopment, the Newham Council scrapped the proposal (source: www.friendsof- queensmarket.org.uk).

Better facilities

Zaffar Sait, great grandson of Haji Sir Ismail Sait who was instrumental in the construction of the market, said the Queen's Market traders were able to protect their space after prolonged struggle. “They were able to convince the local body to scrap the redevelopment plans. However, unless better facilities are made available, both the local body (Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike) and traders will be affected,” he stated.

He, however, said that he was not in favour of demolishing the market. “Technically, Russell Market is not a heritage structure, as it is just 85 years old. However, this does not mean that the local body can pull it down and construct a multi-storeyed building in its place,” he said.

A question of money

The main problem before the local body is lack of revenue to maintain the market and provide better facilities to both citizens and traders. “Most of the shop owners are not the original lessees. The original lessees have either sold it or sub-let the shops. These shop owners pay a pittance to the civic body as rent. Unless the BBMP is able to collect adequate rent from them, it won't be able to maintain the market,” he said.

Mr. Sait also said that Russell Market, which opened in October 1927, has an old-world charm that draws shoppers, despite the mushrooming of newer avenues. “Earlier, the market was the sole option available to the citizens. It is not so now what with the opening of several super markets and shopping malls,” he said.

He suggested that the BBMP could form a society with the traders which could be entrusted with the responsibility of maintaining the market. This arrangement will not burden the civic authority, he noted.

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