Traders want to rebuild market

The blazing inferno in the wee hours of Saturday devoured 173 shops in Russell Market.

But the traders, some of who have built their lives around it for over three generations, want to rebuild the place themselves and not hand it over to the Palike for restoration.

After a late night meeting with the traders, Mohammed Idrees Choudary, general secretary of the Cantonment and Russell Market Traders’ Association, told Deccan Herald: “We have unanimously decided not to hand over our shops to the BBMP. We have our own doubts about Palike engineers completing the work in time. Moreover, we do not want the British structure to vanish.”

The traders are determined to generate the required funds and want to ensure that the market is restored by December 24, with its old world charm intact.

Officers of the Revenue department, who evaluated the extent of damage, put the loss at Rs 1,74,84,500 and have forwarded the figure to the Palike commissioner. The gutted portion of the market will remain closed for the fortnight, while the Southern side and the fish market will function as usual.

“We have called a meeting of all the traders. We are planning to request the government to make temporary arrangements, till the Palike cleans up the premises,” Choudary said.
The open space at the centre, currently used for parking, and vacant spaces around the market will be utilised as a makeshift arrangement for business till the market is restored, he added.

Lamenting the apathetic attitude of the Palike and the government, Choudary said: “This market catered to umpteen star hotels and catering contractors. Time and again we have requested the government and the Palike to provide basic facilities but they haven’t bothered. For decades, this market was the venue for vegetable, fruit and flower shows and the public used to pay an entrance fee to witness the show. But  for the last 13 years, even that is closed, for reasons best known to the officials.”

Sundar Babu, who owns a toy shop at the ground floor of the Northern end, was in tears when the revenue officials approached him for the list of articles that were gutted in the fire.

“Our forefathers started this shop. We are the third generation to take over this business. Material worth around Rs 3 lakh was reduced to ashes. I don’t know how to generate funds to start the business again.”

Compensation
Chief Minister D V Sadananda Gowda announced a compensation of Rs 50,000 each to the owners of shops that were completely gutted. Speaking to reporters, Gowda said the government will announce full compensation after the police and BBMP officers give a detailed report on the loss.

“The shop owners need not panic. The government and the BBMP are committed to their welfare. Temporary arrangements will be made to ensure routine business,” he said.
Gowda added that the government would take up renovation work to protect the rich tradition associated with the structure and a new building would be constructed inside the market.

BBMP Commissioner Shankarlinge Gowda, who had accompanied the chief minister, said the Palike put the  losses at Rs 89,22,995. Sources in the Palike feel the fire at the Russell Market is the handiwork of some unscrupulous elements who had made it a hub of unlawful activities.

“Some people used to gamble there and indulge in all sorts of illegal activities. Last night, there was a brawl and it is assumed that the fire was the outcome of the scuffle,” the sources said.

Century-old building
The area where Russell Market, one of the oldest market places in the City, is located today, was a village when Kempegowda built Bangalore in the 15th century. It became a service area of the Cantonment under the municipal administration in 1871, and later grew to be a busy bazaar of the Europeans.

The Russell Market was built on two acres of land in 1927. On an average, 70,000 people visit the Market every day, which is well known for vegetables and fruits imported from the US, New Zealand, Thailand, Japan, Jordan and other countries.

Nazar Ahmed, one of the wholesale vegetable vendors here, said: "The market is cool in summer and warm in winter.  It is convenient for both wholesale and retail outlets. More than 2,000 families are dependent on the market.”

"According to records available, Russell Market was the first commercial building to get electricity. Decades ago, Mysore Lamps gifted lamps. It was only then that the building got electrical wirings. Though the rent ceilings are old, the authorities cannot neglect the heritage building," said Tabreez, an aged shop owner.

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