Diwali is almost here, and this is the time that traders wait for all year because it is when people go out shopping, buying clothes, gifts, sweets, cars and scooters, furnishings, furniture, the whole range of what a market has to offer. But with just four days more left for the festival, traders and market associations are reporting that festive season is yet to pick up properly for them. They are keeping their fingers crossed that sales will pick up at the last minute. With the last weekend before the Diwali over and the next three days being working days, the traders lament that they did not get the festive response that they were expecting.
Call it the effect of demonetisation or Goods and Services Tax — both introduced by the government after last Diwali — traders of sectors 17 and 22 — the city’s prime shopping plazas — are still awaiting customers. According to the Sector 17 traders, they have witnessed barely 40 per cent sales as compared to the festive season last year. The situation is similar in other marketplaces across the city.
Sanjeev Chadha, general secretary of the Chandigarh Beopar Mandal, said that the charm which a shopkeeper would have before Diwali is almost lost. “In fact, there are several items now that are charged under the highest slab of 28 per cent GST because of which they have become expensive. Even those who would prefer buying bedsheets for gifts haven’t turned up this time because of the high tax rate on cloth,” Chadha said.
Sector 17 traders said that they were first hit when Elante Mall in Industrial Area came up and their sales witnessed a dip. The increase in number of street vendors acted as another dampener, followed by poor sales this festive season because of demonetisation and GST. Neeraj Bajaj, president of Chandigarh Business Council, said, “The money, which women would usually save in the house for festivals, has all been deposited in banks or adjusted in instalments. That is the money which would actually be spent during Diwali days. It has not happened this time.” Kamaljit Singh Panchhi, president of Chandigarh Traders Association in Sector 17, said that there is a lot of confusion among people because of GST which has been driving them away from shopping. “People are coming to the markets to have a festive feel, but shopping is not happening,” Panchhi told Chandigarh Newsline.
Parking lots witness marginal increase
As compared to the previous week, the parking lots in the city’s prime shopping plazas — sectors 17, 22 and 35 — have witnessed a marginal increase during the last week in the ongoing festive season. The numbers show that although people are visiting the shopping areas, they are not spending money. According to the data compiled by Arya Toll Infra Limited, the company that manages parking lots across Chandigarh, the number of parking slips issued in in the last seven days (from October 8 to October 14) at the mobile market parking lot of Sector 22 is 18,371. The figure is around 14,000 vehicles during a normal week. Similarly, in the parking lot of Kiran cinema in Sector 22, a total of 14,078 vehicles were parked from October 8 to 14, which otherwise sees around 10,000 vehicles parked during any other week.
In the three parking lots of Sector 17 — Sahib Singh, CMC and Empire Store parking — a total of 28,618 vehicles got parking slips. The number is around 18,000-19,000 during any normal week. Similarly, in Sector 35-C — another busy marketplace of the city — 16,903 vehicles were parked during the same period (October 8-14), which is otherwise around 12,000-13,000 during a normal week. “Considering the festive season, we were expecting at least a 100 per cent increase in parking, but it is only a marginal increase so far. All our hopes have dashed. Considering the fact that it was the last weekend before Diwali, we have not witnessed much response on Saturday and Sunday,” said Sandeep Bhora, project coordinator of the company. “I hope that the festivity picks up and people land for shopping during the next three days,” Bhora told Chandigarh Newsline.
Not many buyers at other markets as well
“We are yet to see any Diwali rush at the market,” said Dilshan Kumar, a shopkeeper at Sector 15 market, one of the most densely populated areas of the city. “What you are seeing now is routine. Except for the lighting in the markets and residential areas, there is no festivity in terms of shopping. We are hopeful that people may shop in the next three days.”
The Sector 18 market, considered a hub of selling decorative lights during festivals, is getting a normal response. “I cannot say that the sales are high, but yes people are coming to buy stuff like electric lights and other electrical decoration pieces. Since these items don’t cost much and people tend to purchase these during festival season, we are able to make the sales. But yes, the response is not the way as we expected it to be,” said a shopkeeper at Sector 18 market. “I have not done much shopping this year. Everything seems much more expensive now,” said Hasrat Joshi, a Panjab University student. Anil Vohra, president of Chandigarh Beopar Mandal, told Chandigarh Newsline that he was not keeping any “high hopes” from the ongoing festive season. “As compared to last year, situation is going to be different because of two government decisions: demonetisation and GST,” he said, adding that GST is a good decision, but “small traders are facing problems because of lack of awareness. Same goes with the buyers as well”. “Traders are still waiting for customers to step in,” Vohra said.
Elante Mall the exception
For the chief executive officer (CEO) of Elante Mall, Anil Malhotra, the mall which sees a footfall of around 55,000 people on routine days saw 1.38 lakh people turning up only on Sunday. “We expect that the number will go up to 1.50 lakh till night. Also, our sales are about 15 to 20 per cent up because of the festive season,” the CEO told Chandigarh Newsline.