SRINAGAR: Former Vice President of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry Nasir Hamid Khan has put forth his suggestions to Chief Secretary and Chairperson, State Executive Committee (SEC), Arun Kumar Mehta about ways to carry forward with unlocking of businesses .
In an appeal he has luded the administration for the successful containment of the second wave of Covid-19.
He said that with the continuous pattern of reduction in the number of Covid cases, the business community is hopeful that the unlock mechanism will be one that will keep in consideration the delicate financial condition of our economy due to the lockdown-induced disruptions. Having served in departments closely associated with trade, commerce and industry and having played a vital role in the formulation of policies regarding Government interventions, who would be more aware than you about the quantum of losses suffered by us. It is a time where estimation of losses is futile and meaningless. Most borrowers are caught in a debt trap because of the cyclical moratoriums and restructuring of accounts done since 2014 floods. Debts and stock inventories have accumulated while as consumption and demand is abysmally low causing unprecedented business contractionswitnessed over the past couple of years. In this regard, I have no doubts that the Government would be considering an immediate stimulus-driven path to put the economy back on track.
After watching the horrific scenes unfolding in Delhi and other places, I fully understand and appreciate the cautious approach of the authorities in formulating the unlock mechanism but at the same time would like to place on record some suggestions for the kind consideration of the SEC which, in my opinion, would balance the lives and livelihood issue to some extent for the current and future lockdowns:
The operational timings and categorisation of essential goods needs to be revisited. It needs to be noted that essential commodities like provisions/groceries, milk/milk products, mutton/chicken shops, bakeries, fruits and vegetables are required by every household almost every single day. That translates to between 4-5 lac customers per day for Srinagar. On a normal day, they do their purchasing in a time span of approximately 15 hours (6:00 am to 9:00 pm).
In compliance to the permissible timing of 5:00 am to 10:00 am, this window gets reduced to only 3 hours if we consider the fact that very few venture out before 7 am in the morning. Therein lies a potential risk of creating Covid hotspots and spikes. These timings may be suitable for regulating movement during regular curfews but applying the same yardstick for the Corona curfew could prove medically counterproductive. Secondly, the shops being shut at 10 am in the morning saps away all the freshness and nutrients from the perishables. Medical experts suggest healthy food intake for boosting of the immune system which is so critical in fighting diseases including Covid.
Departmental stores/supermarkets cater to more than 50 percent of the needs of the population and have so far been allowed only home deliveries. We strongly urge that the departmental stores/supermarkets fully brought under the Essential Category of activities and allowed to operate fully.
The tyre repair shops and authorised service centres for vehicles also merit addition to the essential category because of the reason that in a medical emergency vehicle break-down could be the difference between life and death. Sale/Purchase transactions of vehicles is mostly an online affair nowadays. This sector has minimal intermingling of customers and do not pose a health risk from the Covid perspective and bringing of this category into the Essential Activities needs to be considered. The recent order of the DDMA, Srinagar dated 30-05-2021 has limited the number of workers at service centers/workshops to 5. For most of authorised service centres/car dealerships and workshops, it is neither possible nor viable to operate with 5 persons. Kindly consider permitting operation of this sector with at least 50 percent staff.
In light of the above, it is humbly suggested that the Essential Activities Category be allowed to operate for the maximum possible time, even 24×7. Having been themselves battling covid since 14 months, most of the people appear to be conscious of what covid appropriate behaviour requirements are and should be able to take the decision to shop at a time they and their families are most protected.
2. MENTAL HEALTH
Apart from the financial and essentials, the mental stress level prevailing in the society because of the lockdowns is also a cause of concern. There are regular reports of heart attacks and other stress related diseases increasing to an alarming level. Experts are of the opinion that the importance of following a routine is most important for mental health. There are sectors which have hardly any customers like the tourism related handicrafts and handloom shops. I would suggest that though they would be conducting hardly any business, the routine of opening and shutting their shops would help in improving their mental health and also provide some physical exercise.
3. SHOPS & ESTABLISHMENTS ROSTER
The roster of permitting three working days (Monday/Wednesday/Thursday) in a week on alternate basis means that only one working day is permited to a business establishment per week. Most of the workers/salespersons of these shops have to come from the rural areas and the transportation costs of opening become more than what they earn. There are many other factors connected with this for which purpose I suggest that shops and business establishments should be allowed to function at least three days a week i.e every other day. With the weekend curfew in place, this suggestion needs to be considered necessary to protect our economic structure which may otherwise suffer permanent damage.