In 1773, the first sales of fruits and vegetables were held in front of St Louis Cathedral. However, the movement of people was much more around the Theatre of Port Louis and the market was displaced accordingly in 1774. In 1814, the selling point became the “Jardin de la Compagnie” and on 25th September 1816, the market caught fire and everything was destroyed. “Bazaar central” of Port Louis was built in 1845 with four wings.
In the 20th century, two fires broke out. The Grocery section was destroyed on 19th May 1981 and the vegetable section on 04th November 1999. On 11th March 2004, the reconstruction of the central market was completed and inaugurated by the then Prime Minister, Paul Bérenger. The two wings of the fish and meat section survived (1845-2012) 167 years without major repairs. We visited all the wings on Saturday 15/09/2012 and honestly our findings are as follows :
Fresh vegetables and fruits wing
Sales were still slow. Only some regular customers were buying. Due to slow sales, tomatoes were turning from ripe to overripe and at a later stage became soft and unsaleable and finally dumped in the Municipal dustbins. We could feel the stress level of market traders.
On the grocery side, many items were hanged around but hardly any tourist could be found. Many traders grouped themselves from nearby stalls and were discussing about the tug-of-war going on between the street vendors association and market traders. In Farquar Street, many nervous policemen accompanied by Municipal Inspectors were busy chasing fruit retailers. Most of them locked their vans and hid their fruits as same had the risk of being forfeited.
Fish and meat wing section
To our surprise, some 40-50% of the stalls were unoccupied. Most of the traders are old people and many of them kept waiting for rare clients. Just behind them many freezers were waiting to store the unsold meat. The mood was not cheerful.
Our proposals for immediate remedial action
(1) There is an urgent need to eradicate mosquito breeding grounds in and around the building.
(2) Anti-mosquito nets are rusty and contain big holes. This allows the mosquitoes and dust to get in easily. Of course, this repair does not require a big budget. The building requires to be cleaned, repaired and painted.
(3) Motorcycles which are kept inside the meat wing have to be given another parking zone.
(4) The floor is in a deplorable state.
(5) The drains have to be cleaned everyday to eliminate the foul smell. The drains are an excellent habitat for rats.
(6) Near the motorway, the garbage must be placed in a lorry that can compress it. Currently, the lorry containing the garbage is an eye-sore and one can imagine the bad smell in the centre of Port Louis.
(7) Training and Food Handling Certificates of the fish and meat sellers have to be reviewed.
(8) The extermination of rats should be done on a regular basis.
(10) Some promotion sales have to be organised or otherwise a slow death is inevitable.
The next location of street vendors…
The three wings namely “fish”, “meat” and “grocery” have to be pulled down. The architects will have to accommodate a maximum number of stalls for the street vendors. This multi-storeyed parking must be provided. Part of Farquar street can be declared a hawker's zone. We have to maintain the folklore of people gathering to buy “3 pom pou Rs10”; a lively activity and a show for tourists.
The movement of people has been from St-Louis Cathedral market via Theâtre of Port Louis and later Jardin de Compagnie and today Farquar and Celicourt Antelme. Therefore, the location must be a point where maximum people are going to board buses and on their way a range of products is accessible at cheap prices. Alternative locations such as the vicinity of kovil at Albion Docks have been disapproved by the president, Nessen Marimen. Mr H. Raman has also rejected two other sites proposed by the government namely the docks building near Caudan and the CWA space near Victoria.
Tug of war
Police chasing the vendors is not a nice show. And what about the budget ? How much money will it cost the Government ? In this fight, the authorities will never win because even on that Saturday some vendors placed the samples in a carton and walked around selling, in smaller volumes, in the presence of the police.
The fact that street vendors are inactive, there is a lack of demand of vegetables on the auction market. Prices have crashed. Vegetables and fruit growers are losing money. Too many strict rules are stressing everyone.