CHENNAI: The Chennai Corporation is like any other landlord. They are struggling to collect rent dues from shops operating in several commercial complexes, across the city. According to officials, the unpaid rent sum accrued over the past few years hovers around the `6 crore mark. They reasoned that the slow pace in recovering the dues is partly due to the fact that the Corporation has prioritised rehabilitation of hawkers removed from the footpaths.
The civic body collects rent from complexes in 152 locations in the city. However, only about 30 complexes in these locations can be classified as purely commercial units, according to officials. As many as 6,190 shops function out of the slots allocated in these complexes by the Corporation. “We list everything from a police station to the offices of a government agency functioning on our lands under a shopping complex list. There are a few upmarket private complexes that is set up on our lands like in Indira Nagar and we collect market rents from them,” said an official.
Although, it had put up banners threatening action on the rent defaulters if they failed to pay dues before October 31, the Chennai Corporation has so far only managed to collect rental dues from about 1,500 defaulters. “An amount `2 crore has been collected so far. But, our primary objective has always been the welfare of the rehabilitated vendors, and us taking it easy on these vendors is in line with what the Hawker’s committee would prefer,” said an official, referring to the Madras High Court appointed Hawkers Implementation Committee consisting of retired judges. “We only charge nominal rates as rent from these vendors. Slot rates differ from the minimum `40 to the maximum `100,” the official added. The larger issue of rehabilitation of street vendors, officials pointed out, is something that the Corporation is struggling to get a grip of. Complexes like the one at Pondy Bazaar which was built to facilitate the street vendors of Usman Road pavements do not offer a holistic solution to the issue, according to hawkers’ representatives. Senior Corporation officials suggested that without the help of Chennai City Police, the civic body is failing in its attempt to monitor those hawkers, who retreat to the locations from where they were evicted.