The Sunday Leader

Business Sinking At Floating Market

By Megara Tegal

The floating market on the jade green canal of Bastian Mawatha in Pettah is indeed picturesque. The large boats docked along the landing look charming against the backdrop of the railway tracks with the odd pelican preening itself on the still water. However, the market is oddly enervated. Business for the traders who have rented out spaces is slow.

 

Business sinking

When The Sunday Leader walked on to the first boat, a toy shop owner was asleep by the side of the boat. Waking up with a start when she realized potential customers had boarded her boat, Ajantha prepared herself to sell the toys neatly stacked on her end of the boat. Each boat is shared among four traders, and their merchandise is mostly toys, bags, knick-knacks, hats and achcharu. Ajantha, like the other traders on the Bastian Mawatha canal, is unable to afford the monthly rent on the income they earn. A single boat is roughly about Rs. 18,000 which is divided among the four traders per boat. Each trader disburses Rs. 4,500 from their total monthly income on the rental of space on the boat where the sale of their goods is far less than what they earned while at their previous location – Manning Market.

“The place is good but business is slow since many people do not visit the shops. It’s not as good when it started out though”, shares Ajantha. When the floating market was opened on August 25, business was better than she imagined as several people flocked to Bastian Mawatha to set eyes on Sri Lanka’s first floating market, but in the weeks that followed their interest in the market dwindled, so did her business.

“The people who come here seem from more upper class and are not too interested in buying these types of toys. If the right market were to visit these shops it would make a huge difference. We have asked them to build a road at the other end, so more people will have access to this area, and to reduce the rent since we cannot manage that amount at the moment. If they could help us out, it would be great. It’s a beautiful area. We will have to wait for another two or three months before we decide whether we need to abandon our business here. I’ve been doing this for 24 years”.

 

No doors and no toilets, say traders

A few boats away, T.D. Prasad – another toy-seller – has little choice but to spend each night on the open boat. The boats have no doors; they cannot be locked. Since packing up all his toys, transporting them home in the evenings, bringing them back in morning is too costly and impractical, Prasad stays overnight in the boat to ensure that his merchandise is not stolen. “I need to protect my goods,” explains Prasad. “If something happens to my family at home I can’t even rush home.”

He went on to say, “There are about four shops on one boat. The limited space is not enough for us. Also there needs to be direct access to the bus stand, so people can easily come here to get stuff on their way home. The income is very poor. On a daily basis we earn about Rs. 400 – 500. On the day this was declared open there was a good turnout since it was something new and people wanted to see what this was. Now it is on the decline”.

A.K. Ariyalatha faces similar issues. Hers is a hat and bag stall right opposite Prasad’s quarter square space. “All we can say is that development is good but when projects like this are done there should be better planning. The public do not have proper access to these shops. There should be a bridge connecting the floating market to the bus stand. Or buses should be allowed to stop near the entrance to the market, so that people go past this way. The facilities here are very poor. There are no toilets. We even got some facilities sorted after much argument.”

Ariyalatha says she has written to the Urban Development Authority but is yet to receive a response. “We need to pay Rs. 40 for a cup of tea here. That is too costly for us, so we can’t even go out for tea since these shops cannot be closed. I did business for 13 years”.

The boats are lined up in a row and towards the end are the achcharu boats. While peeling a raw mango, Irangani laments that she feels like an animal in a zoo. “We want a situation where people can come and shop. People come here but they just window shop and leave. We are like caged animals in a zoo for people to come and take a look and go. We are unable to sell our products. There are no doors for these shops. There is police protection at night, but there have been instances where at day time some of our items go missing. The place is clean, that’s good, but our main issue is we are unable to sell our products.”

Seated in front of her is Kalyani, who recalls how business was better than now when they were at Manning Market. “At our earlier location we did far better in selling our products. People do come here but they look at us like we are monkeys in a cage and go. Some people come and just occupy this area to hangout without purchasing anything and then those who do come to buy stuff have no room to sit and eat”.

While the frequency of visitors has dropped, the traders claim that the market place has become popular haunt for couples. The couples, they allege, behave inappropriately and drive away the few potential customers at the market.

“The women who come here are at time underdressed and we have an issue with that since we have young men working here and even our children,” Kalyani complains. “We need respect to our culture and traditions in areas where we work. These are not even young girls or couples but older women. We have also heard that some couples at times come and sleep here since it’s a closed area and even though there are policemen round they can’t really monitor the entire stretch. The Government is good. They are doing good for the country. Roads are clean and good. But when people come here they should think of our plight and purchase items without just sightseeing.”

Ariyalatha, held similar concerns stating, “This place is now seen even as a lovers meeting place. After 9pm, this place is frequented by couples. They behave in a bad way and the police have their hands tied even if it happens right in front of them. There are people who behave decently and there are others who indecently. They come and sit here”.

 

A new adversity- the monsoon rain

When the floating market was declared open in August, Sri Lanka was experiencing a drought. As October brought the monsoon rain, the floating market traders are struck by yet another crisis. The boats, as described are open on all sides. When it rains hard, water fill the boats and the items on sale get drenched. The government has since provided straw covers to shield the boats from rain; however the traders continue facing difficulties during the rain.

Last week, one of the boats sank. It is believed that the fiberglass attachment – designed to keep the boat buoyant – had gotten filled with water causing it to sink.

However, the Navy Spokesperson Commander Kosala Warnakulasuriya, dismissed this saying it was not a technical fault with the boat. “The canal is cleaned each day by an individual who comes around on a raft. He uses a stick to move the raft forward, and he unwittingly sticks the rod on the bottom of the boat – which is made of fiberglass – and pushes his raft forward. This had damaged the fiberglass of the boat that went underwater last week due to this reason,” the Commander explained. “Since then the cleaner has been advised not to damage the fiberglass, and he will be provided with another boat for better mobility.”

 

The UDA says action to rectify underway

The Sunday Leader spoke to the Spokesperson and Senior Consultant of the Urban Development Authority (UDA), Weerasena Adikarim regarding the issues faced by the traders. On the boat that went underwater last week, Adikari stated that the matter has been remedied, “It will not happen again because it is not a technical fault”, he assured, “That particular issue has been dealt with and it is not reason for alarm.”

With regards to the lack of business along the Bastian Mawatha canal, Adikari says that the UDA has received letters from the traders and is rectifying the issue. “To increase accessibility, we have already written a proposal to extend the road link. The road will connect to Technical College and people will be able to freely walk to the floating market,” he elaborates, saying the UDA is confident that the new road will improve business prospects greatly.

In addition to this, the UDA intends to boost promotional campaigns. In December there will be special Christmas shows along the canal, creating a carnival atmosphere. The promotion campaign will continue as they plan to have the army and navy bands perform at the location as well. “These activities will draw more visitors to the floating market. We have also removed the informal businesses that were carried out there in the Dimo trucks. This hindered business opportunities for the traders along the canal.”

As for the high prices of rent, Adikari says that with the increase in number of visitors in the next few months, with the new road and promotional campaigns, the traders will receive more business and they will be able to afford the rents. He added that bringing down the rent prices is not practical as the UDA has to recover the cost of building the floating market.

Adikari stated that total cost of building the floating market; including repairing the drainage system in the area, was about one hundred million rupees.

However, the traders at the floating market wait for change. As Ajantha mentioned many of them will continue to stay on location expecting that the improvements the UDA makes in the coming months will have a positive impact on their business. If business continues poorly, they will seek out other opportunities as they cannot survive on meager income they earn.

 

7 Comments for “Business Sinking At Floating Market”

  1. Dot

    The idea is lofty and the expense is great . The authority has built the infrastructure and the traders felt priviledged to have obtain a stall ..so Colombo intrroduced a novel feature in shopping .. but the people the customers , the patrons have to come . I remember the Pola in Colombo at one time and the Ladies of Colombo flocked to the place where they bought their vegetables from the Sathosa stalls and fish from the Cey Fish stall .. and when the novelty faded the place looked abandoned and just became a ghost shopping area .Yet the village Polas held on Sundays are able to do a rolicking trade sans all the organized infra structure or architect designed stalls . the Sunday Pola is such an adbenture never to be forgotten …So this goes to say that we cannot superimpose a culture .Some like the trash and treasure outlook even in the First World

  2. ed

    These floating markets are like WATER BEDS for these vendors.So what do you accept when the local government has NOT organised to keep these vendors awake !!!!!! They should start promoting different industries evry three days to display their talents and the craft so that the people start visiting and even the school children will have a day outing to appreciate Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s dream !!!!! SUBA ANAGATHAYAK !!!!!!!

  3. ed

    These floating markets are like WATER BEDS for these vendors.So what do you accept when the local government has NOT organised to keep these vendors awake !!!!!! They should start promoting different industries evry three days to display their talents and the craft so that the people start visiting and even the school children will have a day outing to appreciate Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s dream !!!!! SUBA ANAGATHAYAK !!!!!!!

  4. Sylvia Haik

    It is clear there has been no planning or more importantly no consultation with the traders and/or potential stall holders. Most of all, the authorities should have conducted a survey to realise the viability of the project before the wasted expenditure of 100 Million Rupees.

  5. Kiri Gamarala

    Whether it is fixed or floating, the market that existed before it was floated, attracted customers of a “different kind”. Now that everything from shop space to maintenance, has been formalized and the aesthetics have been enhanced, the kind of customers hitherto attracted to the shops, would not dare to patronize the floating shops due to the stuff they want cannot be sold in shops rented by the UDA.

  6. Udayan Pavithra

    It’s no joke I met KRRISH Group officials in New Delhi and I enquired the abrupt failure of their much advertised housing project in Colombo.

    I got appalled and much embarrassed by his answer that the Hon. President Madinda Rajapakse (that’s the way he sarcastically addressed MaRa) sought 35% commission and 5% for son Namal R. They agreed to deposit the ‘’FEE’’ every time they sell a property to his Seychelles Account but MaRa needs the money at once even before they kick off the project……I repeat it’s no joke!!
    They packed the stuffs and went back to India.
    I know Dr. Harsha De Silva reads CT and please let him raise the issue in parliament !!!

  7. thattaya

    Another great idea by the current dynasty, like the air port and the harbour…

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