The traditional Ooty Municipal Market in the Nilgiris district was gutted on Tuesday as 81 vegetable and general provision shops including three tea stalls suffered a loss of Rs 2 crore. The cause of the fire is suspected to be a hand sanitizer bottle kept near a hot surface at one of the tea shops, which led to the explosion of a gas cylinder. Many more gas cylinders were removed immediately to contain the fire and the damage.
The mesmerizing hill station of Ooty or Udhagamandalam is not receiving any tourists but it is at the receiving end of Covid-19 with a complete shutdown of tourist places and hotels. It seems there was no awareness campaign about the proper use of the hand sanitizer and its fire hazards. The encroachments at the cramped market were asking for a disaster to happen.
The successive governments in Tamil Nadu have been milking Ooty with mammoth revenue generated from the tourists but hardly anything was developed. The roads make you feel that you are driving in Somalia or Ethiopia. On 9th December 2016, The Hindu had carried a report – Encroachments at Ooty market increase fire risk. Neither the Nilgiris district administration nor the Tamil Nadu government paid any heed to the impending danger and the warning even after so many years.
At least now, lessons must be learnt. The market must be cleared of encroachments. Spacious roads must be built inside so that fire engines can easily enter and exit the market. Tea stalls should not be allowed inside. Even if tea stalls are allowed inside, sanitizers must be banned as they are highly inflammable. The market can be a 3-storey structure with provision for more shops. Adequate parking space should be made available.
The Nilgiris Collector Innocent Divya, who has been making efforts to change the face of Ooty must make this Ooty Market Redevelopment Project an aesthetic masterpiece. Women are the best half of the planet. When the Collector Innocent Divya and the Municipal Commissioner Saraswathi sit at the drawing board more creative juices should flow to design and execute a state-of-the-art brand new Ooty Municipal Market. Being close to the administration in Chennai, Innocent Divya can get the required funds for the project. It should be fire-proof too. International tourists throng the Ooty Municipal Market to buy fresh vegetables and fruit. Broccoli is sold at international rates. Broccoli and carrots are exported from Ooty to the European countries.
It may be recalled that a trader was murdered by his friend in the market during the lockdown. There is a need to beef up security arrangements. Surveillance cameras can be installed and more men can be deployed for patrolling. Only peace guarantees economic development. New vendors should not be allowed to encroach the remodeled market.
Efforts must be renewed to restore the livelihood of the poor vendors. The vendors need to be provided with immediate monetary relief as their shops and goods were not insured. Hopefully, the remodeled market is rebuilt soon and we get to taste the tree-ripened delicious mangoes in the coming season. The carbide greed to make quick money has not reached the good-hearted fruit sellers of Ooty yet.
Let the sweetness return soon!