The pavements in Pettah have been invaded by the hawkers again who were given slots in the Federation of Self Employees market (FOSE market) in 2010 by the Municipal Council to engage in their trade activities. These hawkers now repossessing the streets is an obstruction for thousands pedestrians, shoppers and vehicles that throng the Pettah streets.
Speaking to a few of these pavement hawkers, Nation learnt that they only have to buy a parking ticket to set up a stall by the road and engage in their sales activities. A ticket priced at Rs 20 allows them to use a given spot throughout the day.
“Some days we pay Rs. 20 and on some days we pay Rs.50,” said one of the hawkers while producing the ticket issued by the Municipal Council.
A further 100 metres away from these adhoc establishments is the FOSE market which consists of tradesmen who pay taxes and a monthly rent to the Municipal Council for the slot that they have been given to operate from.
According to a senior member of the Federation of Self Employees, Lionel Wijesiri Gunawardena, some of the members of their very federation who obtained these ‘markets’ in 2010 too have gone back to the pavements after renting out their slots. According to him, for each slot, a tradesman has to pay a sum of rupees 6,200 per month. Each slot, given to them with minimal facilities, is four by four feet in area and barely has any room to even keep a table and exhibit their items properly in.
While he said the rent it is a rip-off, the Municipal Council not taking necessary action to remove the hawkers is affecting their business badly. “We are finding it difficult to survive here, let alone make any profits from the sales.
The Municipal Council has allowed hawkers to freely do business on the roads and since they don’t have to pay rent or anything, they sell the same stuff as us but for cheaper. Why would a customer come to us when that is the case?” he grumbled in dismay.
According to him, apart from a shade over the head, the FOSE does not even provide the shop owners with even minimum facilities such as drinking water.
According to another member of FOSE and shop owner Jagath who has been a tradesman for the last 30 years in Pettah, there are currently around 287 members in the federation facing the same plight. He said that during the festive season, hawkers being around have been a norm and they had no problem with it.
“We have made several complaints to the Municipal Council about this situation, but to no avail. We can also go back to the pavement but that’s our last resort. That will only make things worse. The hawkers increasing in numbers is definitely not helping our businesses and we hope the government will not turn a deaf ear to our plight. We have paid rent for the past so many years with our hard earned money; we really hope the government will mediate and look after us,” said a salesman who wished to remain anonymous.
Nation attempted to contact the Mayor of Colombo to get his opinion on the matter but our efforts proved futile.