KMC yet to repair fire-hit Empress Market portion
KARACHI, Dec 28: A portion of the Empress Market gutted over 20 months back has not yet been repaired while to protect goods from rain and dust, traders have covered their shops with iron sheets on a self-help basis, it emerged during a visit to the historical building on Friday afternoon.
A spokesperson for the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation said that a comprehensive project had been prepared and the historical building would soon be renovated, though most shopkeepers were found sceptical about the repair work and that the building would be restored to its past glory.
Anjuman Tajiran Empress Market president Liaquat Ali told Dawn that 47 shops in a rear portion of the market were gutted in a fire on March 27, 2011, reducing goods worth Rs70 million to Rs80 million to ashes. He said the fire was so fierce that it was put out only after it had consumed everything.
The authorities blamed the fire on a short circuit though the shopkeepers did not believe it.
Mr Ali said that luckily the thick stone walls of the building built during the British period remained safe, but the ceiling constructed with iron sheets and supported with iron girders melted, with the result that the roof caved in.
Asked if the KMC had offered or started repair work on the damaged portion, the traders’ representative said that nothing had been done by the civic agency, which owns the market.
He added that the shopkeepers had covered the shops with iron sheets on a self-help basis so that business could be resumed.
In reply to a question, he said that the shopkeepers continued to pay rent as they had been paying earlier despite the fact that no repair work had been done. In fact KMC officials had initially offered that they be given possession of the shops until the repairs were complete, but the traders did not accept that proposal, he added.
A similar proposal had been offered to traders of the neighbouring Shahabuddin Market, also owned by the KMC, earlier with the promise that their shops or alternative space in the new market would be given to them within 15 months, he said. “But over five years have passed and yet there is no sign that those shopkeepers will get back their shops anytime soon,” he said. It was for this reason that the Empress Market traders refused to hand over the possession of their shops to the KMC, Mr Ali explained.
However, he said he was grateful to the KMC for it allowed them to cover the shops with iron sheets so that they could restart their work.
He said: “The government functionaries and ministers at that time had announced that the traders would be compensated for the losses, but nothing has materialised so far.”
Responding to Dawn queries, the KMC spokesperson said that a comprehensive plan had been prepared and after the completion of Shahabuddin Market’s first phase, work on the over one-century-old Empress Market building would be initiated to restore it to its past glory.
He expressed the hope that the project would be completed within a year. The Empress Market was built between 1884 and 1889 and was named to commemorate Queen Victoria. The market was constructed at a site that was not only clearly visible from a great distance but also had a historical significance as it was situated on the grounds where a number of native army men were executed in ruthless fashion after the Indian uprising of 1857. Reportedly, the heads of the native soldiers were blown off by cannonballs in an attempt to suppress what was regarded as the mutiny.
The foundation stone of the Empress Market, which was designed by James Strachan, was laid by the then Bombay’s Governor James Ferguson in 1884. The building was arranged around a courtyard, 130 by 100 square feet, with four galleries, each 46 foot wide.