The first-floating market in the country is up and running for five months now; it’s time for a reality check and Pritha Banerjee did the needful
With a touch of Bangkok in south Kolkata, the Patuli Lake has been transformed into a floating market. The 24,000 square meters water body accommodates 114 boats to host more than 250 shops selling daily essentials from fruits, vegetables, to household items. The market has been functional since it’s inauguration in January this year.
Each boat has two shops and the shopkeepers sell vegetables, fruits, flowers, fish, meat, fast food, tea, etc. There are walkways for the buyers to shop on water. The idea behind the launch of this market was to rehabilitate shops owners of Baishnabghata-Patuli market. The adjoining area on EM Bypass is being widened from four lanes to six lanes, which is under construction now, and the government had to remove the existing 228 shopkeepers due to the expansion.
Cost and maintenance
According to the official sources, the government has spent around Rs6 crore to set up the market and Rs4 crore has been spent to build an underground sewer network for the adjoining area. There are two water bodies, which were merged to set-up the market, equipped with waterproof wooden walkways supported by wooden beams for the buyers and shopkeepers to reach boat.
For the aquatic plants and animals to thrive, there are two aerators to collect oxygen and mix it with water. “We pay Rs600 every month for maintenance of the market, cleaning the water and the walkways every day,” says Bimala Haldar, one of the vendors. There is no entry fee for the people visiting it.
“I just love the ambience of this place in the night. Lights on the boats and on the side of the walkways look so elegant,” says Amit Kumar, seen strolling in the market with his friends. “We love the decoration and it is good to see that the place is properly maintained and cleaned every day,” said Sweta, another one from the group.
On a closer look
Unlike Bangkok, there is no provision to shop around in a boat here. However, this hasn’t stopped people from afar to visit this unique market for an evening outing in the weekends. On weekdays, on the other hand, the market wears a rather deserted look. “Though the concept is noble and the market looks pretty, logistically the concept seems not well thought of. The pathway is narrow, with a lot of ups and downs, which might look great visually but it is difficult to carry heavy bags,” rues Kanika, who claims to be a daily buyer.
Chandrakant Haldar, one of the vegetable vendors, says the business scenario has not been great for a long time now. “The walkway is always bustling with outside visitors, whose only aim is to click photos, thereby causing more problems for the buyers and the sellers. The only people who seems to be profiting from these are ice-cream and fast-food sellers. The local people are avoiding the market due to this crowd and getting their marketing done from sellers on wheels just outside the market,” he adds.
As one walks into the market, the colourful giant umbrellas spread across the jetty and colourful green boats with fruits and vegetables create a warm and welcoming atmosphere. But once you go close enough, you can see the actual scenario. Half the boats are empty and ones occupied have people who are uncertain about what the future holds because business is rather dull for a long time now. “I closed my vegetable shop and started a tea shop now. Now that the cost has reduced, I make better profit. I don’t have to worry that much because whoever comes to the market would like to have a cup of tea,” says Bimala.
Now that the summer season is over, the sellers won’t have to face the afternoon sun anymore. But they suspect things are going to get worse as the rainy season approaches. “Recently, during one of the storm raged evening, I found my boat rocking violently and it was very difficult to save myself from the angry winds in the open space. Next morning, the boat was filled with water due to the rain all night,” said Monmohini Sarkar, a fish vendor, showing the asbestos shade which is not enough to protect the boat even from light rainfall.
It is not just the vegetable vendors; even the ones selling fish, meat, flowers etc. anything perishable have the same problem. “I am spending a lot of money for ice to preserve the fishes and most of them are spoiled after three days. If I was making Rs. 3000 before, now I am only making Rs1000 selling fish each day,” avers Monmohini.
As for the buyers in the neighbourhood, the main reason for them to avoid the market is because they can’t touch, feel and check the freshness of the vegetables before buying them. The neighbourhood market makes it more convenient for them to shop. “Most of my regular clientele that I enjoyed at the Patuli-VIP Bazaar have switched loyalties to other nearby market, such as Garia Bazaar or Jadavpur,” says Chandrakant.
“Most of the boats are either empty or looking for alternative business opportunities because of the lean business scenario,” shares Monmohini pointing at the empty boats.
Most of the people who are visiting this place might have never been to floating market of Damnoen Saduak to understand that floating markets are struggling all over Asia. Vietnam’s floating Cai Rang market barely makes just few dollars a month. The government is now trying to keep the floating markets alive to preserve the culture and attract more tourists. But it is a tough job considering the supermarkets on the shore.
The floating markets in Thailand survived due to tourist attractions. Damnoen Saduak is no longer reliant on local consumers alone for its survival. Most of the products are high priced and they sell because of its charm. Souvenirs, street food and artefacts are slowly elbowing out local produce in most of these markets. “As the markets became too popular, there was degradation in quality. The once authentic sale of exotic fruits now degraded to crappy souvenir,” says Ankit Basu, a travel blogger.
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