Chalai market cries for help

The once-famous Chalai Market, which represents the rich heritage of erstwhile Travancore, is in shambles.

Published: 18th June 2022 01:43 AM  |   Last Updated: 18th June 2022 01:43 AM   |  A+A-

Only a few customers visit the 400-year-old Chalai Market in the city nowadays

Express News Service

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM:  The once-famous Chalai Market, which represents the rich heritage of erstwhile Travancore, is in shambles. The nauseating smell of overflowing drains, putrefying fruits and vegetables, potholed alleys and scattered garbage welcomes those visiting the 400-year-old marketplace. Monsoon has worsened its condition. Hundreds of traditional traders in and around the market are struggling to stay afloat due to lack of enough customers. They curse the changing governments for the market’s sorry state.

Almost every road leading to Chalai is damaged and motorists call traversing the area a nightmare. The much-hyped Chalai Heritage Street Project — launched by the tourism department to revamp the market — is also in limbo, adding to the local residents’ woes.

“I have been running a shop here for the past 40 years. I think the government carried out a proper tarring of the market road 30 years ago. Now, customers are absent, many traders have shut their shops and a few have moved their business outside the market. Wayside markets are mushrooming in many parts of the city. Now, nobody would want to come to the Chalai Market,” said Babu K, a trader running a vegetable shop here.

Silt and sewage from overflowing drains engulf the marketplace after every rain. “After decades, the authorities cleaned some portions of the clogged drains recently. But still, there is no respite from flooding. The government should clean the entire drainage network for positive results,” said Madhu K, another trader. 

For the people of the capital, Chalai Market is a nostalgic place. “My parents used to do all the shopping here. But the situation has changed now. Its condition deteriorated over the years. People are now hesitant to even visit the place. I come here only when I feel nostalgic,” said Santhi S after buying vegetables from a stall.

Fazil, another trader, said newly constructed vegetable stalls are lying unused inside the market.  “Many traders did business only for a brief period as customers were rare. Street dogs have taken over the new market,” said Faizal K, a trader.

The unhygienic and congested fish market inside Chalai is mostly
inaccessible to the public

Shattered dreams
Three years ago, then tourism minister Kadakampally Surendran had launched the Chalai Heritage Street Project. The plan was to rejuvenate the market and transform it into a tourism-cum-commercial destination like the iconic SM Street in Kozhikode.

However, apart from building a few shops, the project didn’t really take off due to a lack of coordination between various departments. The tourism department and Smart City Thiruvananthapuram Ltd had sanctioned Rs 26 crore for the project, which remains unused even now. Now, the blame game is on between various departments over the delay.

While the tourism department points fingers at the corporation, the consultant blames the SCTL for not completing the components taken up by them. “The government and the council have failed to follow up on the project. The local MLA is even unaware of such a plan. I have been taking this up constantly with the authorities. But I haven’t received any favourable feedback so far,” said Simi Jyothish, Chalai ward councillor. 

Phase I of the heritage project includes renovating the vegetable market, constructing the walkway and amenity centre, and installing two traditional gates at East Fort and Killipalam. A tourism department official blamed the corporation for all the lag.

“The apathy on the part of civic authorities is the reason why the project didn’t make any progress. The corporation has to relocate fish and meat vendors to start the Phase II of the project,” said the official. 
Architect G Shankar of Habitat Technology Group said they would be able to launch the project only after SCTL completes the road work. “The corporation, SCTL, tourism department and other stakeholders should immediately hold meetings to restart the project,” said Shankar.

Why traders are fleeing from Chalai market?
The 400-year-old marketplace now welcomes with public with potholed alleys and scattered garbage. This has made cutomers reluctant to venture into the market. Due to lack of customers, many traders have shifted their base. According to the public, the market had a facelift around 30 years ago,  this included just the tarring of roads.  The overflowing drains add to the woes, and remaining traders are functioning between filth.


The Chalai Heritage Street Project will cover areas from East Fort to Killipalam 

The street will have graffiti showing the market’s history

It will feature a walkway with a roof, seating area and benches

Entry gates will be set up at both ends of the market

The tourism department and Smart City Thiruvananthapuram Ltd have sanctioned D26 crore 
for the project

The centuries-old Chalai market is in shamblesThough changing governments announced many plans, no project took off, including the much-hyped Chalai Heritage Street ProjectTraders have left the market amass as customers seldom make trip to the dilapidated marketplace


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