Boro Bazar in Khulna city, the largest commercial hub in the south-west region of the country, has witnessed many ups and downs over a period of 178 years. But time has not diminished it; instead, it has become a part of the country's heritage.
The market started to sprout beside the River Bhairab after Khulna became a mahakuma (an administrative division denoting a sub-district) from Noyabad police station under Jashore district in 1842.
To meet the needs of the then-government employees and common people, the market expanded over several areas namely: West Makot Road, Bhairab Strand Road, Kalibari Road, KD Ghosh Road, Clay Road, Jicjac Road, Sir Iqbal Road, and Station Road along the river.
Every day, Boro Bazar wakes up at the crack of dawn and in the middle of the night, it goes to sleep. Traders of different towns, places, markets, and the port in the region buy their products at this market.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the market saw trade worth Tk20-Tk25 crore per day, said Md Munir Ahmed, president of Khulna Rice Traders' Samity and former president of Khulna Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Now it has decreased by 50% due to the coronavirus crisis, he added.
At present, there are 3,650 registered business organisations in the market, according to the Khulna City Corporation (KCC).
The city corporation collected over Tk18.28 lakh as revenue from the shops on the footpaths of Boro Bazar in the last fiscal year, said Md Selimur Rahman, Bazar Superintendent of KCC.
However, the corporation had no information regarding the amount of the money collected from the trade licenses of the commercial establishments in Boro Bazar, said Sheikh Humayun Kabir, assistant superintendent of the KCC's trade license department.
Boro Bazar was developed in an unplanned way, said Alauddin, proprietor of Messers Alauddin Traders. Electric wires hang here and there in the market and many run shops defying rules and regulations, said Alauddin.
"There is no discipline at the market and that is why it is not possible to invest in the market as per our expectations," he added.
Rathin Saha, a rice trader and owner of Messers Nasir and Brothers, said the streets of the market are very narrow. Many do business occupying half of the streets, said Rathin.
Sometimes it created obstacles in transporting goods and customers suffered a lot, he further said.
Bhairab Strand Road was damaged by the river while the road from Kadamtola to Mohendra Dash was very dilapidated, said Munir Ahmed. These streets needed to be repaired, he added.
Shamsuzzaman Mia, a ward councilor of the KCC, said the West Makot Road was very densely populated. Both sides of the road had been widened by four feet in 2010.
"If Boro Bazar, including West Makot Road, is renovated now, many shopkeepers will have to be evicted. It will cause a huge loss to the businessmen. Besides, this market is a heritage of our south-west region. So, instead of renovating it, we want to preserve the heritage," said Shamsuzzaman.
Ezaz Morshed, chief engineer of Khulna City Corporation, said they have no plan to develop the market right now.
The journey from the British era
Towards the end of the 19th century, Khulna city was known as Charlie's Hat or Saheber Hat. At that time, the name of Boro Bazar was Charlieganj or Saheber Hat. The bazar was named after neel kuthial (indigo planter) Charles as he founded the market.
Khulna was part of Jashore district at that time. The market gradually developed after 1842 when Khulna was upgraded to a mahakuma from Noyabad police station. On 25 April, 1882, Khulna started its journey as a district.
As a result, the importance as well as the population of the district town began to increase rapidly. Steamers started to ply from Khulna to Kolkata, a rail station was set up in the town and a municipality started its operation between 1880 and 1840. These incidents helped the market flourish.
An increasing number of businessmen from different parts of the country – such as Barishal, Jashore, Faridpur, Kushtia, Rajshahi, Chandpur, Cumilla, Noakhali, and Chattogram – started to come to the market.
Marwari businessmen from Kolkata and the adjacent areas also started to come here. They set up many shops and warehouses at the market. Gradually, Boro Bazar became the commercial centre of the south-west region.
Before the partition of the subcontinent in 1947, the Marwari businessmen controlled the businesses of Boro Bazar. But after the partition, they gradually started to leave the market. The market saw a decline in trades at that time.
However, within a short time, Pakistani businessmen filled the vacuum.
The market got back its full strength after Mongla port was built in December, 1950. The products, imported and exported through the port, were released beside Boro Bazar.
After the Independence of Bangladesh, the Pakistani businessmen left the market. At that time, again a void was created at Boro Bazar. However, again, the market turned around as Bangladeshi businessmen came to the helm.
In the 1980s, Boro Bazar fell into trouble again. Many businessmen moved their businesses from the market to other places due to extortion and adverse situations.
Most of the naval routes in the south-west region and the mills and factories in Khulna city were closed. Additionally, the activities in Mongla port were reduced.
All these things affected the market adversely.
However, despite so many obstacles, Boro Bazar is thriving.