`Sub-letting of Corporation commercial complexes rampant'

CHENNAI, MARCH 2. Maintenance is the Chennai Corporation's blind spot when it comes to its commercial complexes, say shopkeepers. The price of neglect: dusty electrical wiring, toilets without water, nightlights that do not work, and crumbling pillars and ceilings.

"They (Corporation) certainly don't know what's going on," said a shopkeeper at Kodambakkam. "They are very prompt at collecting rent, but there is no follow up," he said.

While in some cases, shopkeepers have formed collectives to attend to issues. Most shopkeepers believe that the Corporation must take overall responsibility.

"If the Corporation owns the building, should it also not take care of it?" said a shopkeeper on C. P. Ramaswamy Road. "There is no water in toilets. But some use the toilets but they leave them in a very unhygienic condition," he said.

Zonal offices are responsible for the upkeep of the buildings but officials say that shopkeepers must also get themselves involved in basic maintenance. "As per the agreement, minor repairs and whitewashing must be taken up by the allottees," said a Corporation official.

Officials and shopkeepers estimate that between 50 and 60 per cent of the total 5,576 shops in 109 complexes have been sub-let by allottees, who continue to pay the civic body the monthly rent.

"The shops belong to the Corporation. Allottees do not own them and, therefore, cannot rent them out. If an allottee does not want the shop he must return it to the Corporation's custody," said a senior officer of the Corporation. Although officials admit that sub-letting is rampant, they say it is hard to verify whether the occupants are allottees or not.

The Corporation is more concerned with collecting rent and arrears. "The rent is very reasonable, but in many cases shopkeepers do not pay," said another official.

The local body's collections are in the range of Rs 40 lakhs and Rs. 50 lakhs each month by way of rent and arrears together. Shops of allottees who fail to pay rent for more than three months will be closed and auctioned.

The officials say they are in the process of streamlining the system. "In the last few months, we have brought down arrears drastically, almost by 90 per cent," said the official. "The issue of sub-letting will also be looked into."

The civic body is now emphasising that allottees must renew agreements every year.

Since January, authorities have modified the auction system for allocations. Earlier, bidders were called separately for shop-by-shop auctions; now they should sit together through all the auctions. "The idea is to prevent discussion among bidders so that they do not form syndicates and keep the bid price down." Under the new system, going rates for many shops increased significantly, he added.