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Thursday, September 23, 2021

Punjab: Easing of Covid restrictions brings relief, but businesses are far from full financial recovery

The once lucrative business of IELTS (English language proficiency test) centres in Punjab, consultancies for education abroad, could not get back to even 50 per cent of their business. Hotels, gyms etc have the same story to tell.

Written by Anju Agnihotri Chaba | Jalandhar |
July 25, 2021 9:12:20 am
There are around 17,500 IELTS centres in Punjab, including over 2,200 in the Doaba region only, which is an NRI belt of the state. (Express Photo by Gurmeet Singh)

THOUGH THE Punjab government is gradually easing Covid restrictions, businesses are far from resuming normal operations. Most of them have been able to make only 50-60 per cent of their earnings pre-pandemic.

The once lucrative business of IELTS (English language proficiency test) centres in Punjab, consultancies for education abroad, could not get back to even 50 per cent of their business. Hotels, gyms etc have the same story to tell. Apprehensions of a third wave is of the major reasons behind low activities. Also, government officials are making surprise visits to these businesses to check implementation of unlock guidelines.

“The pandemic has adversely affected IELTS centres, but with the unlocking, the government has allowed them to reopen, which is a great relief and may help in our survival. Now with the conditions of fully vaccinated teaching and non-teaching staff and admitting students with one dose of vaccination, our centres are operating,” said Amit Sharma, owner of Ajit Educational Services, Kapurthala.

“But it will take time to regain the business as it used to be before the pandemic because at the moment, students are reluctant to take admission abroad because of travel restrictions imposed by several countries. We are getting only 20-30 per cent of what we used to have before the pandemic,” said Sharma, who has been training students since 2004.

Ludhiana based Can-Able Immigration Consultants, headed by Khilandeep Singh, is also running an IELTS centre. Singh said the IELTS business got hit badly during the pandemic but unlocking has been a big solace. “We have started getting around 60 per cent intake vis-a-vis what we used to get before the pandemic and hope that things will return to normal soon amid aggressive vaccination, and if the third wave is not as severe as the second one,” he added.

Singh said that in India, around 15 lakh students take the English test every year including 12 lakh IELTS, and over 40 per cent of IELTS students are from Punjab. “Earlier, in Ludhiana, IELTS tests used to be conducted 8 times in a month because of the huge rush of aspirants, which has now come down to some extent,” said Khilandeep Singh, who has been in the field for the past 17 years.

Before the Covid outbreak, around 60,000 students were taking IELTS exams every month across the state. There are around 17,500 IELTS centres in Punjab, including over 2,200 in the Doaba region only, which is an NRI belt of the state.

Chitresh Dhawan, owner of Dhawan Educational Consultancy in Amritsar, which is one of the oldest consultancies in the state for education abroad, said his business has come down to almost nil because he mainly deals with Australia. “Australian government is allowing online education but not taking students physically from India as flights are closed and it may not allow the same for the next one or two years. In such a situation, students cannot afford to take online education as they come from middle class families, who can afford one year fee and the rest of the course’s fee students have to arrange by working alongwith their studies abroad. How can I guide them wrong when there is no clarity about Australian government’s policy?” he said, adding that from sending 200 students for the July session to Australia before pandemic, he could not even send 2 per cent of this number now. “Ours was the oldest centre and we are just keeping the show going, otherwise survival is difficult because I cannot even send my staff, who have been working for me for over two decades, home.

Vijay Sondhi, partner of Rivera (Prime Cinema) multiplex at Phagwara, said that unlocking is not very helpful for cinemas and multiplexes currently because of no major movie releases, as a result of which most movie halls and multiplexes are lying closed. “We hope that these will be run in the second week of August when the movies will be released,” he said, adding that all their staff are fully vaccinated now.

SSP Hoshiarpur Navjot Singh Mahal said they are checking marriage palaces, hotels, swimming pools, gyms, coaching centres etc, to ensure the safety of people by checking vaccination certificates and intake.

Jalandhar Police Commissioner Gurpreet Singh Bhullar said their teams are regularly taking rounds of all such recently opened businesses.

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