Floating Market needs a face-lift | Daily News

Floating Market needs a face-lift

The picturesque Pettah Floating Market.
The picturesque Pettah Floating Market.

The Pettah Floating Market was built with great expectations in mind. What one needs to remember is that the Floating Market is a place that can generate its own current, meaning, that it is a place that is a crowd puller. If the place is managed well, it can attract locals and tourists.

A shop selling local handicraft.

The Floating Market was built in order for it to attract crowds. Today two forces must be at work - external and internal. The fragile economy of the country needs to be revived. People need to have that purchasing power. Also internally, conditions at the market need to be better. A source at the Floating Market who wished to remain anonymous pointed out that there is a need for tighter security at the market.

This will help weed out shady characters like drug users who might visit the market. There is also a need for better maintenance. This source pointed out that there needs to be proper toilets. That is a deficiency in the market.


At the Floating Market we saw some people engaged in fishing. This source too told us that these fish are then sold to other markets. There is no environmental pollution as such at the market. However, the only problem is the “Yachakayos”, beggars/public nuisances.

There was a time when crowds thronged this place. However, it appears that these days very few people visit the place. When Daily News visited the Floating Market in the afternoon last week, there was a couple at one of the tables, but they seemed to be the only two people there. It is hard to say if that was because of the time of the day or a one off day.

According to reliable sources there are around 90 odd trade stalls at the market, selling local produce and some shops selling local handicraft. The market was officially opened by the then Minister of Health Maithripala Sirisena in 2014. However, businesses seem to be struggling at the Market these days.

Sisira, a shopkeeper, pointed out that there is no litter in the water or on the ground; however, there is a need for better maintenance.

“The place needs better maintenance. I am not saying that nothing is being done. What I am saying is that it could be done better. But I must say that business is suffering due to the current economic crisis. By now this is something that is apparent to all. Look at some of these shops, many of them are closed. That is the state of the country. In most cases people just give up. Today our biggest concern is business. First came Corona and now the economic crisis. What can an individual buy with Rs. 1,000 today? You need at least Rs. 2,000 to get through the day. It would be inaccurate if I said that there is environmental pollution here. Do not let the colour of the water deceive you. It is green, but it was green from the very inception of the Floating Market.

The place is being cleaned. We are not living in a dump with the stench making us nauseated. That is not the case at all. People do not throw their trash into the water, because as shop keepers we are all watching. So that does not happen.”

Mahagamage, another shopkeeper, has been in the business for 52 years in Pettah and is grateful for having this shop at the Floating Market. These are very pleasant surroundings and she says that it would be lovely if business improves at the Floating Market. Before 2019, business was good and tourists came. She has a shop that caters to tourists at the Market. Business at this shop has come to a grinding halt. So now she maintains a shop that sells food because she and her family need to survive.

“I cannot say that there is environmental pollution here. This is because the Housing Development Authority does an excellent job.

Closed shops.

They are very committed and they do everything in their power to see that things are relatively tidy. The workers as well, keep things clean and tidy. So there is a lot of effort put in. So I cannot say that there is environmental pollution here. However, there is a problem with public nuisances such as beggars. It is very difficult to control these people. When a customer is at the market, eating or buying something, these public nuisances disturb and bother the customers. This is bad for all of us at the market because the customer loses interest in coming here. We tell these people not to pester the customers, but to no avail. If that problem can be dealt with, it will be a great relief to all of us. Then business will definitely improve,” she said.

Mahagamage stated that they pay the Urban Development Authority a sum of Rs. 7,500 every month. “At the Floating Market, lots of people have closed down their shops. I have business acumen because I have 52 years of experience in business. I am 68 years of age. I used to have a bus service -Mahagamage tours, which I had to sell. So with the income I get from this shop I try to make ends meet. I can see that a lot of people are finding it hard even to pay the Rs. 7,500. So one of the biggest problems we face are public nuisances. So because of these public nuisances we can say that there is a certain form of environmental pollution. Because of these ‘Yachakayo’, unpleasant situations arise.”

Sahan, said that the biggest problem he faces is paying the rent and paying the bills.

“There is a system in place where cleanliness is maintained by the officials. One thing I have noticed is that the crows scatter the polythene lunch sheets. That is one problem. But there are people that regularly clean the surroundings.”

Pettah is a hive of activity in the afternoon. However, when the Daily News visited the Floating Market, we were not greeted by smiles, but by a couple of empty stalls. Mahagamage’s stall that caters to tourists was one of the few stalls that were open. In it were beautiful figurines, that are a testament to the craftsman’s prodigious skill. However, sadly, these figurines just stand there, Mahagamage having given up any hope of selling them.

It is easy to get poetic when it comes the Pettah Floating Market. Visitors to the Floating Market have called it a place of calm and serenity. They talk about taking pictures of the sunset, while at the Floating Market. However, the Floating Market was not built for us to admire the sunset. It was built to generate a profit. Daily News spoke to many people at the market, some who wished to remain anonymous. We discovered that the general consensus is that the expected revenue has not come in. A lot of shops have closed down. The expected revenue not coming in, is the main problem here. The lack of proper security is another problem that another source pointed out. At the beginning the project was very ambitious. It was believed that the Floating Market would bring in multitudes - A large turnout of people every day, every week or every month. But that has not happened. One solution could be to upgrade the market. In other words, think about this problem in a new way. There are a lot of little shops at the market, so if the authorities can build enterprises like restaurants, that might bring in the crowds. This will create opportunities.

People engaged in fishing at the Floating Market.

The Floating Market can be a great hang out place. It has that kind of potential. There is a need for great hang out places in Colombo, where the old and the young can spend time with friends and family. There are so many people who live in outstation, who want to come to Colombo and stop by somewhere where they can eat and then go elsewhere. Foreigners will truly appreciate the Floating Market, because they will be able to buy traditional Sri Lankan handicrafts while dining at the market. If the market can be upgraded in that way, it will become one of the most frequented sites in Colombo.

Pictures by Sudath Malaweera  


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