Don’t kill Pettah
Posted on April 8th, 2020

Chanaka Bandarage

Even before the Portuguese’ arrival, Pettah had been a major trading place.  Due to its proximity to Colombo Port (Kolom Thota), the Kotte kings erected warehouses in Pettah to store spices, vegetables, fruits, grains, ivory and timber geared for export. Pettah (also, Fort) used to station tusker elephants that Sri Lanka (then Sinhale) exported to the world.

During the Dutch and the British periods, Pettah emerged as the country’s main trading hub. It continues to be the case.

In and around Pettah, the British built such institutions as the Central Bus Stand, Fort Railway Station, Tram Station, Manning Market (fruits and vegetables), St John’s fish market, Tripoli Market, Chalmers Granary, Main Street’s textile and Sea Street’s gold centres, Front Street’s electrical appliances, bags and clock/watch centres, food wholesalers around Bankshall, Keyzer Streets and Gabo Lane areas, many small shops and boutiques in Pettah’s various Cross Streets and the small eateries and tea boutiques in St Sebastian Road, plus, ample opportunities for pavement hawkers who traded from trinkets to motor vehicles! Then, the nearby Hultsdorf Court complex where several thousands converged daily. Due to these, Pettah has always been an exceptionally busy place.

It is Pettah’s busyness that it has become such an interesting/lively place.

In fact, it is a world famous place. Overseas visitors to this country flock to see Pettah. They love the hustle and bustle there. The many street food outlets, the Dutch Period Museum and the Red Mosque are favourite tourist attractions.

But since recently, the authorities rather than building Pettah have been more concerned about dismantling Pettah. It has gradually lost important landmarks/institutions. Examples include the St John’s Fish Market, Tripoli Market, Chalmers Granary,  shops/boutiques in St Sebastian Road, removal of pavement hawkers and the iconic Manning Market (soon to be removed).

It seems that they had felt that Pettah is too busy and it should instead be a tranquilled, calmer place?

Relocating St John’s Fish Market from Pettah to Peliyagoda is a major failure. It was a foolish thing to do. Business in Peliyagoda (which place becomes flooded during heavy rains) is not brisk. It is a difficult place to reach, as no public transport is available to the site. Those days, after work, office workers used to patronise the St John’s Fish Market. It is feared that once the Manning Market is shifted to Peliyagoda (very soon), it could face the same fate. Closing down of the Tripoli Market, which was very lively on weekends,  is sad.

If Manning Market MUST be closed (which would be a shame), there will be a public outcry if the  land is divided and sold to private property developers to build luxury apartments (such transactions are the ‘new fashion’ by governments). That type of a scheme would allow unscrupulous politicians to make money. The precious Manning Market land belongs to people, it should continue to remain with the people.

The writer suggests that that land should be converted to a public park with trees planted and benches, water ponds/fountains erected. People could sit and enjoy/relax in busy Pettah. Part of the area may be used to build a children’s play area, also a large multistorey car park (in the Railway Station end) as parking is a major problem in Pettah/Fort. After Vihara Maha Devi Park we do not have any good parks in Colombo. Such a new Park would also become a huge tourist attraction.

It is good that the pavement hawkers have now returned to Pettah, though in a limited way.

It is ludicrous to think that Pettah should be a calm/quiet place. It was never intended to be so.

Due to its close proximity to Fort Railway Station and the Central Bus Stand (both SLTB and private), Pettah will continue to grow and stay busy. And we should build Pettah in that context.  The authorities should allow trade and commerce to flourish in Pettah steadily.  Again, they should reconsider the decision, they must try to preserve the Manning Market in the current location.

The areas around the SLTB and private bus stands are unclean and unhygienic. They are eyesores. The offensive smell that emanates from the Beira Lake especially from around Customs Office/Lake House areas is unbearable. It is sad that the authorities do not pay attention to these (we want Sri Lanka to become the ‘Wonder of Asia!).

Many thousands frequent Pettah daily, including tourists.

It is good that new toilets (paid) have been built, but they do not seem to be clean.

The recent establishment of the ‘Pettah Floating Market’ (PFM) is a good concept. It gave Pettah a new dimension, with its magnificent waterfront becoming exposed.  However, there seems to be lack of commercial activity there (except the Bake House). The current shops have less  business. This area can be developed into an open food court (Hela Bojun/Diyatha Uyana styles). The eateries in Olcott Mawatha are not up to the standard; also, they do not have variety. Some of the shops by PFM’s railway track side can be converted to trendy cafes. It will be good to encourage people to use the PFM promenade also as a walking track (for exercise). For this, the areas up to Technical Junction and thereafter to Maradana Junction (opposite Elphinstone) should be well paved. More shady trees and benches would be needed. The authorities must ensure that water in this area of the PFM Beira Lake is not toxic/harmful.

The recent establishment of the small shop owners’ stalls where items like clothes, caps and footwear are sold may be a good thing. True they are highly congested, but Pettah’s ‘crowded’ identity allows that. The only drawback is that this new erection has resulted in the permanent shut down of the road behind the Bo Tree. Due to this, Pettah’s traffic congestion has worsened.

The condition of the new vegetable/fruit market (retail) established closer to Gaspaha Junction is of menial standard. In an open, empty building vendors keep items on the floor as no proper stands/stalls have been erected.  Erection of benches  should be considered; keeping food on the floor is unattractive and un-hygienic. This is a very basic facility, it resembles a village pola. There is no running water there. Compared with what Pettah used to have, what it needs is a  better, high standard  retail vegetable/fruit market.

Again, what the authorities should do is to build/develop Pettah. By doing this, if Pettah becomes busier, so be it.  We should not dismantle institutions and restrict crowds there, but allow Pettah to grow; freely, lively and uninterruptedly.

One Response to “Don’t kill Pettah”

  1. Nimal Says:

    Let people bring their produce to be sold.

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