Coronavirus impact: Status quo on shopping a day after govt eases curbs

A shopkeeper wears a mask and sanitizes his hands at Crawford market in Mumbai Photo: PTI
Neighbourhood stores selling non-essential goods remained shut in most parts of India on Saturday, a day after the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) announced the opening up of shops within municipal limits and registered under the Shops and Establishment Act in a bid to revive economic activity.

While groceries and pharmacies in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, and Karnataka were open for a few hours, in accordance with the state and MHA guidelines, non-essential retail remained largely closed through the day.

Gujarat has become the first state to issue a notification after the MHA guidelines, saying small and large shops, barring those in malls and market complexes, can open from Sunday outside of containment zones.

In Bengaluru, meat shops and some takeaway restaurants were open, but that was all.

Mumbai, on the other hand, saw strict enforcement of lockdown rules, with police barricading roads and making frequent announcements on loudspeakers to disperse crowds in supermarkets.

Saturday also marked the first day of Ramzan, the month of fasting for Muslims, prompting shoppers to throng store aisles before they downed shutters for the day.

West Bengal was the only exception to the rule here, with mobile phone retailers, general merchandise shops, and snack outlet owners, among others, rushing to open their stores on Saturday.

Lockdown trouble

  • Many shops selling non-essential goods did not open on Saturday; West Bengal was an exception
  • Retailers remain unclear about the latest MHA guidelines
  • Gujarat has said shops can open outside containment zones from Sunday
  • CAIT wants more states to do so; retailers say malls should be allowed to open

Essential retail continues to function as it is in the state.  Shops could be seen opening in prominent marketplaces such as Jadu Bazaar, Gariahat and others in Kolkata despite the Confederation of West Bengal Trade Association saying a state notification pertaining to non-essential retail needed to be issued first. 

The Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT), a national body of traders, also made a similar point while welcoming the move to open shops, saying state governments needed to take a final call on the matter.

"State governments have to take a decision in this regard and accordingly the shops can be opened," said Praveen Khandelwal, secretary general, CAIT. "The order says only 50 per cent of the employees in the opened shops will be able to work at one time. This ensures social distancing," he said.

But the Retailers Association of India (RAI), the apex body of modern retailers in the country, said clarity was required on the matter.

"We feel the current circular is open to interpretation and needs more clarity for easier implementation," Kumar Rajagopalan, chief executive officer, RAI, said. 

"Keeping in mind the current environment, we recommend the government open up all channels of retail on a date it feels safe. Malls in the country should also be allowed to open as they are professionally run and would be able to control the environment for safety and social distancing," he said. 

Shopkeepers in Kolkata who opened stores argued their livelihoods had taken a hit owing to the lockdown and the central notification had come as a much-needed breather.

With a total lockdown set to begin on Sunday in five cities in Tamil Nadu, Chief Minister E K Palaniswami ordered essential shops to be open till 3 pm on Saturday. Non-essential retail remains closed. During the lockdown, essential shops were allowed to function between 6 am and 1 pm.

Harshraj Kale, president of the Federation of Automobile Dealers' Association, said the notification wasn't clear on whether auto dealerships were part of the same. "With our customers under lockdown, we will continue to remain closed and dealerships will reopen once the government lifts the lockdown for all citizens," added Kale.

(Viveat Susan Pinto, Samreen Ahmad,  T E Narasimhan, Shally Seth Mohile, Avishek Rakshit and Vinay Umarji contributed to this story)

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