Major markets in the city remained more or less closed on the first day of the fourth phase of the nationwide lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Shopkeepers said they were waiting for clear guidelines from the Delhi government, before which they would not open shops.
The guidelines were issued on Monday evening, under which all shops in markets and shopping complexes have been allowed to open. In case of shops selling non-essential items, the odd-even policy will be followed, meaning that on a given day, half the shops in your neighbourhood market will function.
In some markets in the morning, shutters were pulled up halfway, with shopkeepers claiming they were only selling essential items. Others said they had opened shops for cleaning and sanitisation but had not begun full-scale operations.
Sarojini Nagar market, for instance, remained completely shut Monday barring chemist shops. Neerju Yadav (38), a shopkeeper who sells women’s bags, accessories and clothes, had come from Uttam Nagar to the market after two months to check on his products.
“We’re not sure when the market will open as it sees huge crowds. We are waiting for the government to give us some clarity. I came today as I haven’t been to the shop since the lockdown. I realised that 75% of my rexine products have gone bad, so even if the shop opens, I’m worried about business,” he said.
At the neighbouring INA market, shops selling groceries, dry fruits — significant in number — were open, but most other shops, such as those selling crockery and jewellery, were closed. Some shops selling garments had lifted their shutters halfway and put out uniforms for nurses and doctors on a rack.
“We started selling these only from today as it is an essential requirement for doctors and nurses. The rest of our cloth materials, saris and suit pieces are not for sale right now till we have some direction on when we are allowed to open,” said Kapil Chhabra of Chhabra Silk Store.
In South Extension, Kotla Mubarakpur and Saket too almost all shops remain closed including big brand showrooms like Bata, Nalli, Westside and premium jewellery brands.
At Lajpat Nagar market, some eyewear shops said they had opened Monday but only for cleaning purposes. A store operator at Titan Eye Plus, which had at least four-five staff, said, “We opened at 12.30 pm today to sanitise the whole office. We are waiting for our raw material to come now so we can clean each pair of glasses properly. As of now, there is no plan to open the shop till we get clear guidelines.”
The Defence Colony market was also closed, except for shops that had already opened after the last MHA order. “We opened on May 4, as did some other stationery shops. But today, no new shops have opened as the government’s orders are still awaited,” said Akshit Bansal, who runs Bansal Stores.
Meanwhile, the Delhi government’s decision to open markets using the odd-even policy to ensure less crowding and the threat of action against shop owners if social distancing is not maintained has led to apprehensions at marketplaces.
Most traders said they are caught in peculiar situation — open the market and risk spreading the virus, which can lead to shops being shut or entire areas declared as containment zones, or keep marketplaces shut and face further economic brunt.
Vice-chairman of the Federation of Sadar Bazar Traders’ Association, Paramjeet Singh Pamma, said they are yet to take a final decision on opening shops: “But if not today, then a week or two later, we will have to open. Traders are exhausting savings, helpers and staff are also dependent on us and asking if shops will open or if they should leave for their villages.”
In the narrow lanes of Sadar Bazar, Chandni Chowk and several other Old Delhi areas, where small shops compete for space and people walk shoulder to shoulder, social distancing is easier said than done, traders said. There are around 40,000 shops in Sadar Bazar, some so small that no more than three-four people can stand inside at a time.
The Confederation of All India Traders secretary general Praveen Khandelwal said the odd-even policy can be troublesome. “There are several wholesale shops which are interdependent. In retail, it will leave people confused because they will find one shop open and another where they want to go closed,” he said.
In large markets such as Chandni Chowk, Sadar Bazar and Karol Bagh, there are several points of entry and exit, making it difficult for associations to ensure thermal scanning even if they station guards at the entrance.
President of the Sarojini Nagar mini-market association, Ashok Randhawa, said asymptomatic people with the virus can still get through. “Perhaps it would have been better if markets did not open for some more time, but many also feel it is difficult to sustain their finances if markets do not re-open,” he said.
Sanjay Bhargava, president of one of the market associations in the Chandni Chowk, said they have decided not to open till May 31 as it is close to a containment zone. Some associations, however, said they will open shops.
Karol Bagh and Gaffar Market said they are yet to take a final decision on opening, while INA, Khan Market and South Extension will open.
Khan Market did not open up entirely Monday, but will do so from Tuesday. Currently, 40 out of 156 shops at the market dealing with essential services are open. “We have decided to open Tuesday onwards and follow odd-even guidelines, but with reservations. Many disputes are going to arise regarding rent, property tax, employee salaries, electricity bills. We will write to the government on this (odd-even), and ask them to reconsider. Our business is down and we don’t want to face more losses,” said Sanjiv Mehra, president of the Khan Market Traders’ Association.
(Inputs from Ananya Tiwari)
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