'Littler India' and quieter too

SINGAPORE - Last weekend was just a preview. The next six months will see the throng of foreign workers that take over Little India's streets over the weekends become considerably thinner.

There will be a 50 per cent reduction in the number of scheduled bus rides that ferry these workers to the ethnic enclave over weekends. This could see the numbers of these workers fall from more than 20,000 until recently to just 10,000 or so.

Since they congregate in a tiny area, the halving of their numbers will make for a dramatic change of scenery. The plan is to hive the rest of them off to other parts of the city, such as four recreational centres. There are also plans to screen movies at the dormitories.

But it is Little India that will see the real change, following the recent riot.

A 1.1 sq km area in the enclave will become a "dry zone" on weekends, public holidays and the eve of public holidays over the next six months.

In line with this, shops holding retail and wholesale licences will be allowed to sell alcohol only from 6am to 8pm on those days. A total of 134 businesses, such as liquor stores and convenience shops, will be affected.

But hotels, restaurants, pubs and coffee shops will be able to resume selling alcohol, which they had to refrain from doing so last weekend.

Yesterday, it was the liquor-shop owners who wore the longest faces.

More than the curtailed hours, it's the fact that the workers will not be able to drink in the area that worries them. Two businesses said that between 60 per cent and 90 per cent of their customers buy booze from them to drink with their friends in nearby public areas over weekends.

Now, if they can't drink the liquor in the area, the shops doubt that these workers will buy it.

Mr Kailasam Sadhasivam, owner of New Arasi Trading in Chander Road, said he expects to lose as much as $6,000 in sales every weekend.

The halving of workers thronging to the area will likely have a knock-on effect on other businesses - including eateries, remittance centres and phone shops - that cater to them.

The Land Transport Authority said the frequency of buses will be tweaked over time.

Mr A. K. M. Mohsin, the editor of Banglar Kantha, said the "unique character" of Little India - which comprises crowds of locals, tourists and migrant workers - could change in time.

While some of the buzz and bustle could go, he saw a silver lining. Many of these workers who currently splurge large chunks of their hard-earned money on liquor might now use it better.


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