Covid-19 crisis leaves Agra shoemakers in lurch as tourists stay away

A employee of a restaurant sits inside an empty eatery in view of coronavirus pandemic near the historic Taj Mahal in Agra
Apart from the Taj Mahal, Agra is also known worldwide for its handmade leather shoes. But the Covid-19 crisis has left India's this biggest shoe production centre in a shambles, with shoemakers's residences showing no activity even three weeks after the lockdown was lifted. Agra is among the worst Covid hit cities of Uttar Pradesh where almost half the area has been declared a hotspot.

Around 300,000-odd shoemakers in Agra have had virtually no work for the past three months. Artisans engaged with shoe and leather accessories manufacturers are sitting idle at home. Independent shoemakers, who used to sell their product in the local market, too have the same story. In Bijlighar and Heeng mandi, the biggest shoe market in Agra, there are no customers and barely a handful of retailers can be seen. According to traders, for the past three month neither tourists nor outstation customers are coming to Agra. Hardly a few local shopkeepers are buying the products from the shoemakers, which is not sufficient.  The shoemakers complained that the administration has not allowed them to display product in the Bijleeghar or Heeng mandi.

According to local trader Pramod Gautam, the district administration has allowed opening the market on alternate days from June 1, but that is of no help for the shoemakers. He said that the main business for the shoemakers comes from the traders coming every day from other cities and states, which is not possible with limited mobility permitted by the administration. Gautam said that no international flights are operating and the biggest tourist’s attraction Taj Mahal is closed. 'More than thousands of shoe makers earn their bread from the Bijleeghar shoe market everyday which is nonfunctional these days’, said Gautam. According to him, the Bijleeghar and Heeng mandi also used to supply raw material to the shoemakers.

According to another local trader, Vijay Chaturvedi the annual turnover from the sale of leather shoes and accessories was around Rs 800-900 crore but under present circumstances, it will be reduced to one third for this year. He hopes that shoe market will pick up to some extent in July this year.  

Chaturvedi says during the lockdown the shoemakers were supplied rations and packed food but it has stopped once the unlock began from June 1. He said that recently a German shoe major has announced to set up unit in Agra but the daily earners in shoe making industry would not gain from this. 'For them only the tourists’ influx like earlier days will help in running household’, said he.

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