The multibillion rupee fish market opened in Peliyagoda recently has run into problems leading to further rise in fish prices, besides extortionist fleecing vendors.
Adverse reports of clashes between extortionist and vendors, have made the customers wary of patronising it. In addition the distance an average customer who does not have his/her own conveyance, has to commute, is also a damper.
“We are worried that customers to date are not turning up in their numbers as expected because those who do not have their own transport, have to walk in excess of a kilometre to come here,” a vendor explained.
Heavily armed Special Task Force (STF) personnel have been stationed at the fish market to prevent extortionists from operating, but customers were staying away this week for fear of violence, resulting in poor sales in the first week.
Fish vendor Sumith Fernando from Sedawatta told the Sunday Times that for nearly three decades his family had been involved in fish trading at St John’s market and had now shifted to Peliyagoda paying Rs 200,000 for the stall.
“We have to pay a monthly rental of Rs 10,000, compared to the Rs 2,600 we paid to the CMC. Our main problem is that the wholesale stalls and the retail stalls are located separately. Hence, those who go to the wholesale side, do not come to the retail side,” Mr Fernando said.
“Unfortunately, entry is from the wholesale market side. The vendors are not supposed to sell less than five kilos, but instead, we find they are selling small quantities. As a result, none of the customers are coming to the retail side,” he said.
He said, their turnover was around Rs 50,000 a day at the St John’s market, but here it had dropped to less than Rs 10,000.
Mr. Fernando said that their personal security when getting back home, too was also a concern for the traders, although the STF has been deployed at the market. “We have to walk through a lonely stretch of about a kilometre to get to the main road and the extortionist could take advantage of this,” he added.
A.R. Jagath, a vendor from Kelaniya, said authorities should have erected a gate at the main entrance, so that customers would also come to the retail section, and not end up only in the wholesale section.
“One of the main problems is the distance of a kilometre to the market. To buy a kilo of fish, one has to pay another Rs 100 as trishaw fee to get to the spot, adding to the overall cost,” Mr. Jagath said adding that authorities should introduce a public transport system for the convenience of customers. Otherwise it would be difficult to attract retail customers.
A former wholesale vendor L.H. Irakan from Kaduwela, said he was now assisting a friend, as he had not been able to get his own stall. “A wholesale stall’s monthly rental is Rs 40,000. We do not have a sufficient turnover to afford that rate. The security situation too has been a concern for the people who have been coming here. Ideally, the retail stalls should have been closer to the main road, so that it could be convenient for the general public, attracting more business,” he said.
He said currently, most of the fish was being heavily cold storaged as sales were slow.
As a result of the high expenditure and low turnover, the number of workers in some of the stalls have been reduced to cut down on costs, vendors told the Sunday Times.
A week after the vendors moved in, the toilets were in a neglected state, with no effort made to maintain them.
Meanwhile, despite the arrest of 14 persons involved in extorting money from the vendors, security concerns among the traders were apparent. “It is the duty of the government to ensure our security, without the vendors having to pay extortionists, which would have to be ultimately recovered from the customer, who would have to pay a higher price for the fish,” a vendor who did not want top be named said.
“It is up to the government to make this place easily accessible and the burden on the customer reduced. It should have been given thought at the designing stage. Otherwise this place will be only for those who own vehicles,” he added.
The question remains whether the Rs 3.8 billion project will have the desired results in providing more facilities to the consumers as well as the traders.