Vendors frequenting shops selling ready-made garments in Pamunuwa are bitterly complaining about threats and the lack of a level playing field due to political interference
- Around 300,000 people earn an income directly or indirectly while being connected with the garment trade business in Pamunuwa
- These traders made a request to Minister Wimal Weerawansa requesting for a permanent place to do business in Pamunuwa
- The MC Members maintain that the UDA gave the land to the Maharagama Municipal Council to be its custodian
- Maharagama Municipal Councilor Nishantha Wimalachandra maintains that their (traders) societies are just welfare societies and have no legal clout
- The night business is busy as the daytime business in Pamunuwa
- It has been four months since the elections concluded, but a solution to their problem is not in sight
- The majority voted against the move taken by the Municipal Council Members to allow the Maharagama traders to engage in business there
The clothing business in Pamunuwa, Maharagama contributes largely to the Sri Lankan economy and is sadly in dire straits. Pamunuwa is popular for ready-made garments. Over here there are around 2000 traders who sell clothes early in the morning and there are also daytime traders; and the place attracts around 8000 garment traders.
Most midnight traders are engaged in wholesale business. These traders include 600 women. They do business at Maharagama New Road, Old Road, Pamunuwa Railway Road, at the area under the Urban Development Authority and near the Maharagama Bo tree. For decades, traders from Maharagama, Piliyandala, Kottawa, Kesbewa, Homagama, and Piliyandala have been doing business in Pamunuwa. They have several welfare societies including the Society of Old Road Ready-made Garment Traders, the Society of New Road Ready-made Garment Traders and the Society of the 48 traders of the UDA land. They never sought the help of the Government for jobs, houses, or other personal needs. They helped each other offering brotherly love. Female traders also eagerly engage in business since they are safe here.
"Some traders have even threatened other traders. Even though they had informed Minister of Public Security Sarath Weerasekara and lodged a complaint with the Maharagama Police these businesses still continue with the support of political power and thugs"
The ready-made garment business in Pamunuwa began four decades ago with clothes made from garment factory rejects. As it became popular raw material was imported from China and garments were made out of it and sold at a reasonable price and distributed everywhere. Most of the expensive garments in clothing stores were also from Pamunuwa. As the ready-made garment business in Pamunuwa became popular in countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, and Maldives, people from those countries visited Pamunuwa for ready-made clothes.
The night business (better known as the ‘midnight business’) in Pamunuwa begins at around 2 am and lasts till 7.30 am. Traders from far away provinces arrive by buses. They come in groups as if they are going on a trip. Or else garments are sent to them in buses traveling on long distance routes. The night business is busy as the daytime business in Pamunuwa.
The garment business in Pamunuwa, which makes a contribution to the national economy, has created many job opportunities directly and indirectly. One trader creates around 20 job opportunities and these jobs range from those involved as garment suppliers, those transporting garments, cutting garments for ready-made clothes, thread suppliers, machine operators and parts sellers and garment item sellers; each creating 3-5 more job opportunities in return.
"The Municipal Council members have affirmed that if the traders from Maharagama are not allowed in Pamunuwa, other traders from Kottawa, Homagama, Kesbewa, Piliyandala and other provinces would be evicted to provide space for the former"
Daily money lenders, those lending money monthly, betel traders, those selling hot tea, restaurateurs and congee sellers also earn an income while supplying to the needs of those engaged in the garment business in Pamunuwa. State banks and private banks lend them money daily for trading activities and all this can be seen early in the morning in Pamunuwa. Around 300,000 people earn an income directly or indirectly while being connected with the garment trade business in Pamunuwa.
These traders build houses, buy vehicles, educate their children and enjoy a successful life with the income they receive. However, even though their businesses run smoothly the manner in which they do business is extremely difficult. Early morning traders must trade in places belonging to other people as they do not have permanent business premises. For 40 years they have been engaging in business on the side of the pavement or at the entrance of a shop. They have set up businesses in places owned by others. Such places are rented out at high prices starting from 300,000 Rupees. There have been occasions when these places have been sold at millions of Rupees. But on a rainy day they cannot engage in business.
"As the ready-made garment business in Pamunuwa became popular in countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, and Maldives, people from those countries visited Pamunuwa for ready-made clothes"
These traders made a request to Minister Wimal Weerawansa requesting for a permanent place to do business in Pamunuwa. They have already identified a 35 acres plot of land, which serves as a religious place in Pamunuwaa at present, and have told the minister that part of it is suitable to be set up a premises for trading activities.
They have requested the Minister to discuss with the relevant authorities regarding this. The Minister has agreed and there was already a plan to possess the said plot of land. Several early morning traders, who were close associates of the Minister, got to a head start. However the plan to set this place up got postponed due to the present pandemic and the elections. Since the Minister agreed to their request, they remained hopeful. When President Gotabaya Rajapaksa visited Mahargama before the General Election, welfare society representatives got the opportunity to inform the President of their issues. The President promised to work on a plan to give them the said place for their business.
It has been four months since the elections concluded, but a solution to their problem is not in sight. Representatives of traders say that Minister Weerawansa does not take their phone calls and refuses to give them appointments for a meeting. The representatives said that the Minister made promises only to get their votes. They charge that before the elections the ministers could be reached for conversations vert easily.
The Government has turned a blind eye to their issues. They are faced with another issue at present because of the conduct of three SLPP Members of the Maharagam Municipal Council. Two of them are Ruwan Senarathna and Nishantha Wimalachandra. Representatives of traders charged that these municipal council members maintain that since the government they represent is in power Maharagama traders should receive more space to do early morning business in Pamunuwa. These Municipal Council members have disregarded the objections raised by these traders engaging in early morning business. The Municipal Council members have affirmed that if the traders from Maharagama are not allowed in Pamunuwa, other traders from Kottawa, Homagama, Kesbewa, Piliyandala and other provinces would be evicted to provide space for the former.
This issue has arisen after the expressway bus stop at the city centre was moved to Nawinna. Societies representing the ‘early morning traders’ complained that the land where the old bus stop was situated has now been marked with boundaries, numbered and given to political supporters. Some traders have even threatened other traders. Even though they had informed Minister of Public Security Sarath Weerasekara and lodged a complaint with the Maharagama Police these businesses still continue with the support of political power and thugs. Even though these supporters of politicians were first removed by the Maharagama Police, these Municipal Council members have used their powers to get their supporters back in business. They have given the old bus stand area to their supporters without the approval of the Maharagama Municipal Council. It seems that these members have distributed Municipal Council lands among their supporters using their powers. The area has been marked into 69 parts. Even though the police was informed, no action has been taken yet, the representatives of traders complained.
“We are not against allowing persons earning low income, garment traders or traders who suffered due to COVID-19 to do business in the area. Since these MC members were trying to illegally distribute the land among their supports and thugs, we opposed them,” representatives said.
"The Government has turned a blind eye to their issues. They are faced with another issue at present because of the conduct of three SLPP Members of the Maharagam Municipal Council. Two of them are Ruwan Senarathna and Nishantha Wimalachandra"
A group of 50 people have threatened these representatives in the Police Station premises when they were lodging a complaint. They fear that these politicians and their supporters would destroy an industry which has existed for 40 years thanks to the camaraderie among traders. 70% of the early morning traders are from Maharagama. They said that they have become helpless in the face of the present pandemic because they have to settle bank loans and leases. They requested the authorities to provide a fair solution to their issues.
We made inquiries from Maharagama Municipal Councilor Nishantha Wimalachandra. He said that the bus stop was situated in a land under the Maharagama UC and it was shifted to Nawinna. A group of Pamunuwa traders engages in business in that land. Since other traders objected those traders, with the approval of most of the Councilors ,we allowed do business temporarily at the place where the old bus stand was,” he said.
He also said that their (traders) societies are just welfare societies and they have no legal clout. “I criticise these societies. The Maharagama traders might not get anything good by discussing with them,” he added.
Therefore as a representative of Maharagama, he would give this land to the garment traders and to protect the Maharagama youth from taking to drugs. He said it would also help young traders with economic difficulties during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Municipal Council has proposed to build a green park in the area and these measures have been taken only to earn a temporary income. If these societies keep objecting 500-1000 youth would be gathered to remove traders from Homagama, Kottawa, Piliyandala, Kesebewa and other provinces, he added, Those areas will then be given to Maharagama youth. He also said that very soon traders in the area under the UDA will be evicted and the land would be taken under the Municipal Council to be later be distributed among his supporters (Voters). He added that the law is the same for everyone. The UDA gave the land to the Maharagama Municipal Council to be its custodian. He said it was wrong to separate the area using strips, which were removed later.
"The OIC of the Maharagam Police said that the group of traders got the approval of the Municipal Council to engage in business in that area "
However those strips and numbers can still be seen. When inquired the OIC of the Maharagam Police said that the group of traders got the approval of the Municipal Council to engage in business in that area. When we inquired from the Mayor of Maharagama Tiraj Priyarathna he said that no such decision had been taken. “If such a proposal was submitted to the MC on December 17, I would have informed you about that decision,” he added.
According to the OIC of the Maharagama Police and Councilor Nishantha, the land has been distributed with the approval of other councilors. The authorities should investigate and find out whether the OIC of the Police and the Councilor were lying. The majority of Councilors have informed the representatives of traders that they do not approve the conduct of Councilor Nishantha and that of the other two members and are willing to support an objection campaign providing their signatures.
It is also reported that a vote was taken on December 17 to decide on whether the move taken by the Municipal Council Members to allow Maharagama traders to do business at the place where express buses were parked was justifiable. The majority voted against the move taken by the Municipal Council Members to allow the Maharagama traders to engage in business there. It is also reported that a disciplinary inquiry will be commenced soon against these Members of the Municipal Council.
Attempts made to contact Minister Wimal Weerawansa and his Media Secretary