The crisis was aggravated after a few shop owners refused to pay the rent for their shops.

Mahila Maill in Kozhikode, Kerala, that is run by women.
news Mall Closure Tuesday, August 25, 2020 - 18:20

“We were all elated then,” says Beena K, President of the Unity Kudumbashree unit in Kozhikode. Unity, comprising 10 women from different Kudumbashree units from the Kozhikode Corporation, was formed in 2018 to run Mahila Mall. Run by women and for women, the mall was perhaps the first business venture of its kind in the country. The mall is the first and the only one run by members of the state Kudumbashree Mission.

“We were so thrilled at that time, as we were about to support women to make their lives better,” Beena tells TNM over phone.

Mahila Mall is now on the verge of closure owing to rent arrears amounting to over Rs 38 lakh. Unity pays a monthly rent of Rs 13 lakh to the building owner.

The mall, which has 30 shops, opened for business in November 2018. However, a crisis started the very next month.

“Some of the shop owners began defaulting on the rent payment in December 2018. Somehow misinformation had spread that we receive government funds, which led some of the shop owners to default on the rent payment. We even gave them an option to pay the rent in instalments, but even that was not agreeable to them. Twelve shop owners are the defaulters,” Beena says.

The shop rents range from Rs 50,000 to Rs 2 lakh. The mall was shut in March when the pan-India lockdown came into effect and has not reopened yet. Unity is firm that shops of defaulters will not be allowed to open, but the other 17 shops where owners have been regular in paying the rent will be opened.

“The rent had been fixed as per the standard rate but the defaulting shop owners allege that the rent is too high. We designed each shop as per the requirement of the shop owner and spent around Rs 1 crore to renovate the building. We have to repay the loan amount of Rs 80 lakh that was availed for running the mall. We’re on the verge of closure if the situation continues like this,” she says.

The group members used to engage in various tasks like running hostels and working in Cafe Kudumbashree units earlier. “The dream was to provide women a platform to venture into commercial business. I can’t express how happy we were when we envisaged the whole thing, because like us we wanted other women from downtrodden communities also to earn a good living. None of our family members ever intervened in the business. But the family members of a few shop owners took control of their business and persuaded others also not to pay the rent. If all had cooperated well, it’d have remained as an exemplary initiative because the shops were doing really well in the beginning,” Beena says.

Meanwhile though the 12 shop owners have lodged a police complaint, the police have not initiated any action. “The police have no role in this. We had summoned both the parties, while the shop owners demanded a concession in the rent arrears the other party was not ready to agree to it. There is also the issue of not renewing the agreement on time. This is a matter to be settled in court,” Additional Sub Inspector of Police Krishnankutty told TNM.

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