Floating Market: The stink hole of Pettah | Daily News

Floating Market: The stink hole of Pettah


 The stench emanating from the Beira Lake seem to deter those visiting the Floating Market except for a brave few who are in dire need to spend their time unnoticed and undisturbed. Many shops though occupied, lacked any shopper. The market which was declared open with much pomp and pageantry two years ago, has lost much of its glamour.

The market which was transformed in to a small night bazaar in the years gone by, has been reduced to a loitering ground for beggars, and now gradually turned into a hub for illegal activity.

While the responsibility of maintaining the floating market seemed to change hands from one state agency to another, the market seems to be gradually falling into a dilapidated condition.

Empty shops

Situated in the heart of Colombo where most of the people pass through daily, the Floating Market on the Beira Lake was opened to the public in 2014. The market featured nearly 100 stalls with a variety of items at affordable prices, ranging from local fruits and vegetables, garments, toys and electronic items.

However, the floating market gives a very different picture today. Many of the stalls have been closed down, while in many stalls only one fourth of the boat was used by the sellers. Many of the shops have been vacated due to lack of business. Though sellers from many parts of the island had profited during the Sinhala New Year, the vendors in the floating market have not been able to earn a quick buck during the festive season.

Chandrika was preparing achcharu to be served to the people loitering in the floating market. Many raw fruits were neatly arranged in the shop ready to be peeled and cut to make achcharu.

But she lamented that she was unable to sell most of the achcharu that she made on a daily basis.

She said that though the floating market was the cynosure of Pettah, people seldom lingered about unlike when it was opened. Most of the people who visited the floating market earlier, avoided visiting the shops said, Chandrika.

Recalling the days when the floating market was opened to the public, she said that people flocked the marked more than she could have imagined.

Traders said a single boat is roughly around Rs 15,000 which is divided among four traders per boat, but still they were unable to pay the monthly rental from the meager income they earn.

We used to earn much more at Manning Market, our previous location, but we earn far less here, said W. Perera, adding that it was not an easy access to the public and no one would come a long way looking for us.

“I had to share my shop with four people while it was more advantageous to the man who was in the front potion. Amidst many difficulties, I managed to get back my shop again. But it was not an easy task,” he added.

Bad odour

While sellers struggle to carry on their business, the odour emanating from the polluted Baira Lake on which the floating market was built remains a hindrance to them to carry out their daily business. The Lake gets its bad odour due to algae which is present in the water which is mostly prominent during dry weather.

Stalls sans customers


The water in the lake has turned dirty and it smells badly, making us feel bad too about the place, said R.Weeraratne, a vendor.

People are reluctant to enter the market as it stinks these days. This happens very often, he added.

According to the sellers, the polluted lake was also one of the reasons for people not patronising the shops.

People flocked into the floating market when it was declared open to the public, said another vendor K. Somalatha. However, the dreams of running a business in the floating market began to change in the weeks that followed when the people who visited the market began to reduce gradually, she added.

Many vendors claimed that the lake was maintained and kept clean prior to year 2015 under the Urban Development Authority along with Naval officials who often visited the lake and checked its maintenance. However, after the handing over of maintenance of the lake to the SLLR and DC, they are still struggling to bring about a solution to the issue. Meanwhile the Colombo Municipal Council has drawn a blind eye towards the problem, but still levies taxes.

The Baira Lake adjoining the floating market had not been cleaned for the past several months. Before 2015, cleanliness of the lake was maintained by the Urban Development Authority and now it has been entrusted to the Sri Lanka Land Reclamation & Development Corporation (SLLR&DC). Measures are being taken to clean the Baira Lake and long term solutions would bring an end to these problems, claimed Sri Lanka Land Reclamation & Development Corporation (SLLR&DC) Chairman, Asela Iddawela. None of the short term measures that the SLLR attempted were successful. Adding chemicals to the lake to get rid of the odour would only be a temporary method, he added.

People sleeping


Officials attached to the SLLR and UDA are doing a feasible research on the issue to arrive at a long term solution, he explained.

The permanent solution would be to stop the connection of illegal pipelines turned to the Lake, said Secretary, Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development, Engineer Nihal Rupasinghe.

Many pipe lines are connected unofficially to the Lake. The Colombo Municipal Council had been instructed to look into the illegal discharging of pipe lines, said Rupasinge, emphasizing that immediate steps would be taken to curb the rising situation.

However, the authorities responsible for the maintenance of the floating market have come up with different solutions to the problems struggling to bring about an immediate solution.

Illegal activities

Many traders complained over the polluted lake and the market being less exposed to the people have led to the rise in illegal activities. A place established with the concept of beautification of the city and business opportunities to the vendors, have been turned out to be a place which creates fear and displeasure.

When inquired about the people who have occupied the empty shops and benches, the vendors said that few are sellers from other areas of the market, while the rest are drunkards and drug dealers.

A vendor, under conditions of anonymity said that the market had become a hub of drug dealers and sex workers who carry out their businesses without interference.

Abandoned stall


We have also heard that some couples sleep here at night since it’s a dark area and even though there are policemen in the vicinity, they are unable to monitor the place during the entire night, said R. Weeraratne.

He claims that many individuals take advantage of the deserted places available in the night for illegal activities.

When the floating market was under the supervision of the Sri Lanka Navy, irrespective of time, two Navy personnel would be always on duty, the vendors claim.

“The floating market is a place for the public to rest and for people such as us to do business. The real value of establishing this market had been lost now,” Weeraratne added. Conscious of the issues taking place, police is also taking action to curb the escalating irregularities in the area.

Police to help keep order

Special police officers have been assigned to curb illegal activities that are taking place in the market, said Maradana Police OIC Sarath Perera, emphasising that illegal activities are being controlled.

Every month nearly 20 cases are being filed against prostitution in the floating market, said OIC Perera.

He further said that these activities do not take place during day time, but only when the shops are closed in the evening.

Settling up pavement hawkers in the floating market was one of the reasons for the deterioration in businesses, said Projects Director UDA, Mahinda Withanarachchige.

He said people do not come particularly to these shops. Therefore, these vendors have to settle in a place where more people pass through daily, he added.

Stating that the matter had been already taken up by the UDA, Withanarachchige said that after the Manning market is moved to Piliyandala, many changes would take place to the infrastructure of Pettah.

Therefore decisions regarding the settlement of these vendors will be taken very soon, he emphasised.

He said that attempts made by the UDA to move the vendors to Bastian Mawatha had failed as half of them agreed to it, while the other half opposed the proposal.

Therefore, the proposal has been halted until they arrive at a decision, he added.

According to Withanachchige, the Floating Market could be used for several other effective purposes.

There are businesses that people come looking for, such as air ticketing centers and foreign employment agencies. Similar centres would make people access to the area easily, he said.

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