After more than 100 days of lockdown, markets in the Valley have gradually extended their business hours, and public transport is getting back on the roads. On Friday, in city centre Lal Chowk, unlike previous Fridays, shops and other business establishments remained open till afternoon.
A self-imposed shutdown had prevailed in Srinagar and other districts of the Valley even after the government lifted restrictions imposed following the revocation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and the August 5 decision to bifurcate it into two UTs. The two UTs came into being on October 31.
For the last many days, shops are open for longer hours compared with just a couple of hours in the morning. In most parts of the Valley including Srinagar, shops now remain open till late afternoon.
“Businessmen have extended their working hours and public transport has started plying. The shutdown observed by people was a spontaneous reaction to the August 5 decision. If businessmen are opening their shops for longer than before, it is for survival. Everyone knows that after the clampdown, there was no transport, and business remained shut for all these months,” said Sheikh Ashiq, President of Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), the largest elected business body in the Valley.
“There was no shutdown call by anyone, it was voluntary. Whatever happens in the coming days, it has to come from people,” Ashik said. Uncertainty, he said, continues to loom large. For instance, just two days ago, shutters came rolling down Wednesday over a rumour of a killing. The markets were shut in Lal Chowk within a few minutes.
Mohammed Yaseen, a businessman in Srinagar, said till a few days ago, he used to open shop early in the morning and wrap up business by 10 am. “But ever since it started snowing and mornings became very cold, we decided to open shop around 9 am and close by mid-day,” he said.
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Keeping shops open for just half-a-day itself is a way of showing protest, according to Yaseen. “It is true we have extended working hours, but there is uncertainty. No one knows what will happen in the coming days.”
In North Kashmir’s Baramulla district, Ishfaq Ahmad, a businessman said it was not possible to open shop early in the morning in winters. “Now mostly, you see shops opening around 9 am. They remain so till afternoon.” Many businessmen faced financial issues and were forced to extend business hours.
On Srinagar roads, public transport, and taxis and mini-buses have started operating. In other parts of the Valley, though, only private transport is plying. “For three months, I stayed home. Nobody asked us to stay away from the roads. But it was a conscious decision. But then, I have to pay instalments. Banks don’t stop charging interest,” said Bashir Ahmad, a taxi operator in Srinagar.
While some commercial cabs have started operating on major Valley routes, members of taxi-stands in Srinagar said they planned to resume services soon. “We are forced to think about getting back to work. Since the last three months, everyone is at home and it is becoming difficult for drivers to feed families and also pay EMIs,” said Mohammed Rafiq, Vice President of Taxi Stand Number 2 in Lal Chowk. He said they were planning to open the gates from Monday.
A senior administrative official in Srinagar told The Indian Express that the situation is gradually improving. “We are monitoring the situation very closely,” he said. “But of late, things have improved and we expect further improvement.”
Following the lifting of restrictions by the government, the first signs of normalcy were visible with street vendors in Srinagar setting up makeshift stalls in the Polo View area and Hari Singh Street under police protection. With these street markets drawing people out of their homes, Srinagar’s busiest flea market on Hari Singh Street witnessed two grenade attacks, in which two people died and left dozens of civilians injured.
In October, authorities published full front-page advertisements in local dailies, asking shopkeepers and business houses to resume “normal” business activities.