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Triplicane Urban Co-op Society turns 100

R. Balaji

Chennai , April 8

THE Triplicane Urban Cooperative Society, which pioneered the cooperative movement and organised retailing, will be a 100 years old on Friday.

The consumer cooperative society predates even the First Cooperative Credit Societies Act of 1904, which officially ushered in the cooperative movement into India, points out an official.

Business started at 7.30 a.m. on April 9, 1904. "Our establishment numbered two, a manager and a salesman, each on Rs 8 a month. The manager was new to business but the salesman, a Chetti by caste, had good experience in the grocery line. Through the latter, we got a loan of a pair of scales and a set of weights and measures for the opening day," recalls a history of the TUCS published on its silver jubilee.

The credit for the venture goes to 14 local residents, inspired by the Secretary of the Cooperative Union of Calcutta, Mr Ambika Charan Ukil, who was here in 1903 to attend the Indian National Congress.

The group that came to be known as the Triplicane pioneers, led by Mr V.S. Srinivasa Sastriar and Mr T.K. Hanumantha Rao put together Rs 319 - well short of the targeted Rs 1000 - to start the business. The Triplicane store registered sales of about Rs 90 on the first day. On some days sales were down to "eight annas" - about fifty paise. But then `make haste slowly' is a motto of the TUCS.

TUCS's sales are now around Rs 90 crore a year with assets estimated at Rs 100 crore. It runs a super market and eight self-service department stores, sells automobile fuel and cooking gas, and operates more than 200 rations shops for the Public Distribution System. Until recently it also sold liquor till the State Government took over the marketing.

According to sources, this growth could be accelerated with a just a bit of hard selling. Though in letter it remains a cooperative, in spirit it is a government-run establishment, with a government-appointed special officer. Officials prefer not to rock the boat.

Not something that would make the founders proud considering that in 1911 they resolved not to include government officials in the administration. "This really proved to be a blessing in disguise for it enabled the movement in this province to grow on popular and democratic lines and be free from the evils of the bureaucratic system," comments Mr A. Sivarama Menon, the then President of the TUCS, in the history of the TUCS.

The TUCS can boast of all the infrastructure facilities that most organised retailers only dream of, say the employees. "We should be able to leave the competition behind," they say.

For instance, TUCS owns about 40 buildings in the city in prime locations, storage facilities and a fleet of vehicles. This includes an 8,000 square feet department store and storage space on the arterial Anna Salai.

But new comers are carving up the market for themselves. "No longer can we afford to maintain a low profile," they say.

Business is stagnating and there is no major effort to expand, they say. From Rs 92 crore during the year ended March 2003 business dropped to about Rs 84 crore by March 2004. A large part of the drop is due to the State Government taking over liquor sales from the cooperative, they say.

"We need to be more competitive." As envisaged by the pioneers, TUCS has to go to the production centres, pick up commodities and products at low prices and sell at competitive rates. After all this is the principle on which TUCS was built, they point out.

Meanwhile, ask a resident of the Big Street, where TUCS has its headquarters and operates a store, whether the family buys provisions there, the chances are the answer is no. Ask Why? There is a non-committal shrug. No particular reason.

Possibly because there are flashier alternatives.

More Stories on : Co-operatives | Events | Tamil Nadu

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