We can't go back to last year: Multiplex, retail associations urge Maha govt to avoid lockdown

·5-min read

Mumbai, Apr 1 (PTI) Cinema, retail, and shopping industries won't be able to bear another lockdown, industry associations said on Thursday, urging Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray to not impose a lockdown in Maharashtra where COVID-19 cases continue to rise.

Multiplex Association of India (MAI), Retail Association of India (RAI), and Shopping Centres Association of India said they were following all the safety protocols of the government but a lockdown will hit the business, which was in the recovery process.

Maharashtra, whose capital Mumbai is home to Hindi cinema, on Wednesday reported as many as 39,544 new coronavirus cases, its second-highest single-day rise in infection tally since the pandemic began, a health official said.

With this, the state's cumulative caseload mounted to 28,12,980.

Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope recently said people should be ready for stringent measures in the coming days to curb the spread of COVID-19 and that imposing a lockdown is the last option for the state government.

Kamal Gianchandani, CEO PVR Pictures and president of MAI, said the cinema industry is mentally reconciled with the fact that they will have to 'co-exist with the virus for some time'.

'There's a sensor deja vu for sure because we all have painful memories of the lockdown,' he told PTI in an interview, emphasising the need for stricter enforcement of safety protocols and faster vaccination of people.

Gianchandani said businesses should be permitted to function because that's the only way for them to sustain.

'If we can't function, the whole cycle comes to a stop and then we cannot sustain ourselves. So, if at all, they're thinking of a second lockdown, we would urge them to reconsider their decision and take a much more long-term and pragmatic approach.

'Businesses, the economy and the virus have to co-exist. You can't manage and contain one at the cost of the other. It's not an either-or situation anymore. It has to be an 'and' situation,' he added.

Several films like 'Haathi Mere Saathi' (Hindi version), 'Bunty Aur Babli 2', and 'Chehre' that were up for release in March and April have been pulled by the makers from the calendar due to uncertainty amid the pandemic.

Kumar Rajagopalan, CEO, RAI, told PTI that a lockdown would be a non-analytical and knee-jerk reaction.

'Because it means we have given up hope that we can control the situation, that in the last one year, we have not learnt anything new. So, this is a really non-tenable situation and who can survive.

'If retail does not get money, then the suppliers do not get money and if suppliers do not get money, then the factories cannot operate. And if the factories do not operate, then it has an overall effect all across the system. The government does not get taxes and the employment will also go down,' Rajagopalan said.

Mukesh Kumar, chairman and director on board, Shopping Centres Association of India, said the industry is already suffering because of the previous government decisions such as mandatory testing for the mall and reducing the timings.

'We are just recovering. We have reached almost 60 per cent of the footfall and 90 per cent of sales in March but then it started going downhill once the notification came about checking people coming to the mall and that they must have a negative RT PCR report... Then the second news came about reducing the timings, so these were all bad news.

'Let's hope that this doesn't happen because we will not be able to take another lockdown. Another shut down will be discriminatory only for the malls, theatres and F&B,' Kumar told PTI.

According to SCAI, they cater to just one per cent of the population and follow stringent safety protocols with malls ensuring that they don't have more than one person per square foot.

'If you look at the number of people in the mall, it is very limited. They are being monitored and you can't get a safer place than the mall where everything is controlled, monitored, reviewed and audited. You can't have this in markets, railway stations, airports or any other crowded place. In the event, any action is taken, the first casualty is the mall, theatres and the F&B,' Kumar claimed.

Despite the rising COVID-19 cases in Maharashtra, setting the alarm bells in the business community, Gianchandani is cautiously optimistic about the future provided theatres are allowed to operate in Maharastra, a crucial state for business.

'I remain confident as at this point, there is no change of dates as we speak. 'Sooryavanshi' is coming on April 30 and 'Radhe' is scheduled for May 12 or 13, depending on the Eid. So as we speak, these films are releasing on the dates that they have announced, but at the same time, the cases continue to worsen, there would be concerns.

'But firstly, I remain optimistic. I do think that government machinery and administration in districts are doing everything possible to contain the spike in cases. And my sense is they would be able to show results fairly quickly. So we remain quite optimistic that these films will release on time,' Gianchandani noted.

Unlike other countries where businesses were given subsidies on wages, soft loans and other such initiatives, businesses in India have been left to fend for themselves, which he said was understandable given India's resource crunch, but the cycle of recovery must not stop. PTI BK BAL BAL