Kolkata's first floating market

Kolkata's first floating market

Kolkata has many firsts in the country, from the British-era Victoria Memorial Hall, the longest cable-stayed bridge on the Hooghly River after the iconic Howrah Bridge, to the first underground Metro Railway network to name a few.

Recently, another feather was added to the crown of Kolkata when the city became the first metro of India to have a full-fledged floating market, catering to the daily needs of people. Other than Kolkata, only Dal Lake in Srinagar in Jammu and Kashmir has a floating market.

And Mitali Roy, Amit Ghosh, Krishna Sarkar, Mukhtar Hussein and many others of Patuli in the southern fringe of the city residing along the Eastern Metropolitan (EM) Bypass are ecstatic about the new venture in their locality taken up by the Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority (KMDA).

Back in 2016, for the ongoing construction work of the Garia-Airport Metro Railway link, the EM Bypass had to be widened to accommodate the heavy flow of traffic as the road is one of the major arterial roads linking the city's east and north with the south.

"There was no way that we could widen the road and not evict several hawkers who have been doing their business for long in the locality. The residents also depended on them as it had turned to be a major market catering to the day-to-day needs of the people. Our government has a policy of no eviction without rehabilitation and during the eviction drive, we had promised hawkers about alternative arrangements. Accordingly, we had allotted a spot for them near a bridge closeby, but they had reservations about the spot and had said that their business would be hampered as it was at a distance from their original spot, favoured by their buyers," recalled Minister for Urban Development and Municipal Affairs Firhad Hakim.

Hakim said: "During my tour  of two nations, I saw how floating market operated and how shopkeepers were doing business in Thailand. On my return, I noticed an abandoned waterbody in that area. It was lying there for ages as the earth had been moved to make the foundation of the EM Bypass. I then asked the engineers of KMDA if they could design a market on water. They had initial hesitation, but then agreed and the process started," Hakim said.

The waterbody was first properly cleaned and then construction started on both banks. After fencing, the look of the area has simply changed. Making boats suitable for floating market was a challenge. Then boats were procured from Balagarh area in Hoogly district.

As per specifications

The KMDA got 114 boats as per their specifications, which could accommodate two sellers each along with storage space for both. The flat board design of the boats made them perfect for the 228 sellers to display their wares and conduct business.

Haripada Chowkidar was busy adjusting his articles, an array of Katla, Rohu and Bengal Bhekti along with his co-seller. "It is a complete new experience for us. You experience a mild sway in boats, once you move, which is normal. Initially it was not easy to adjust to it, but now we have come to terms with the little turbulence," he said.

"Since we sell fish, we need cold storage facilities. The hull space in the boats is perfect for that. Both me and my wife's major headache now is how to  handle our nine-month-old daughter, who is simply awestruck and is having a gala time on the boat," Chowkidar said.

Some local residents have taken the new idea with a pinch of salt.

"It is a new idea and it is fine. Only thing is customers are not allowed to choose vegetables and fish. They are not allowed to touch the items on the boats. Without getting a feel of the fish or vegetables, which is common in nearly every daily market in Bengal, it will be a tough idea for some to make their purchases. Let us see how this new model works," said a local.  Fruit seller Rebati and Yakub Mondal are also happy. "It was very important that we get alternative locations near the spot where we used to conduct business, since it is a regular market of daily needs and our buyers would never have gone far. This has turned out to be a very good option," they said.

Yakub also had a word of caution for the buyers. "From now on those who will shop from Patuli floating market will have to renew their long-forgotten practice of carrying bags for shopping. This is a strict no-plastic zone and we are not allowed to keep plastic bags with us or throw anything in the water," he said.

KMDA officials said that water depth of the floating market will be constantly monitored and kept under five feet. Any excess accumulation during the monsoon or other times, will be pumped out and if the level recedes below five feet, equipment is in place to pump in water from deep tubewells. Purifiers have been installed in the waterbody to keep the water   clean and not completely stagnant, so that it does not become a breeding ground for insects or mosquitoes.

"Guards will be posted to regulate crowd movement on the wooden platforms. Children below six will not be allowed inside the market alone," a senior KMDA official told DH.

Hakim said, local civic officials have selected another large 160-m long waterbody near the Patuli floating market for the second floating bazaar.

"Around Rs 9 crore was spent to construct Patuli floating market. We have given a go ahead for the second one also and KMDA engineers and Kolkata Corporation officials will start work on the project soon. Not only will the floating markets cater to the daily needs of the people of the locality, but also they will be major tourist attractions in the coming days," the minister said.

With his bag of incense sticks, sandal paste, flowers and vermillion, Kalindi Panigrahi was extremely busy when the market opened. Hopping from one boat to another and performing his brief puja, the man said, "I am praying to Ganeshji and all gods that this floating market prospers."

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