Mixed response in Delhi to relaxation on opening standalone shops

New Delhi, Apr 26 (PTI) For the first time in over a month, Akash opened his tea stall in Laxmi Nagar on Sunday with a soft smile and a hope of getting business back on track, as the Delhi government ordered implementation of the Union Home Ministry's guidelines on reopening of standalone shops in COVID-19 non-containment zones.

With the nation going into a lockdown on March 25 to contain the spread of the coronavirus, Akash took to selling vegetables. He reopened the tea stall after a 33-day hiatus, but business is lean.

'There is not much sale as people are not venturing out due to the lockdown. I hope the situation improves after May 3,' he said.

The government order allowing certain relaxations amid the lockdown has evoked a mixed response in Delhi. Some tea sellers, tailors and electricians have reopened their shops. However, in many areas, including Harinagar in West Delhi and Lajpat Nagar in South Delhi, all shops barring grocery stores and pharmacies remained kept their shutters down.

Arvind Aggarwal, who deals in items of domestic use in Laxmi Nagar said he did not expect many customers. 'I came to take stock of the situation and do some cleaning work. I hope business will be back on track with opening of more shops and lifting of restrictions,' he said.

The second phase of the nationwide lockdown will continue till May 3.

The ruling AAP's trade and industry wing convener Brijesh Goyal said many people in Laxmi Nagar had opened their shops in markets on Saturday due to some confusion, but there are no such report on Sunday.

'We expect shops in residential areas to open following the government order. Shops in coronavirus containment zones, however, will remain shut and no business activity is allowed in such areas,' he said.

Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said on Sunday the Delhi government was implementing the Centre's guidelines on opening of neighbourhood and stand-alone shops during the lockdown till May 3.

He, however, clarified that no markets and malls will be allowed to open in the national capital and all shops in COVID-19 containment zones will remain shut.

'The Delhi government will maintain status quo and will not relax lockdown restrictions till May 3, except those permitted by the Union home ministry,' he said.

Praveen Khandelwal, Secretary General of Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT), said traders in many states, including Delhi, have been finding it difficult to open their shops because of confusion on what constitutes 'neighbourhood and standalone shops' as there is no specified definition in this regard.

In Delhi alone, there are around 75,000 shops which can be opened following the order, but the response so far has been lukewarm owing to the confusion, he said.

The CAIT on Sunday wrote to Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla seeking further clarification on 'neighbourhood/standalone shops'. There is a lack of consensus between the administration and law enforcement agencies, which has kept traders from opening their shops, it said.

In a late night order on Friday, the MHA said, 'all shops, including neighbourhood shops and standalone shops, shops in residential complexes, within the limits of municipal corporations and municipalities, registered under the the Shops and Establishment Act of the respective State and UT' will be allowed to open during the lockdown.

The shops will be functioning with 50 per cent workforce and will have to adhere to precautions like physical distancing and wearing of masks.

However, the order signed by the Union home secretary made it clear that shops in market places, multi-brand and single brand malls located in municipality areas shall continue to remain closed till May 3.

In southeast Delhi's Jangpura, Pankaj Kumar opened his tailoring shop for the first time since March 22, when the country observed a 14-hour Janata Curfew to pay tributes to frontline workers battling the deadly virus.

'I will do some cleaning and complete pending work. The COVID-19 outbreak has changed the way we work. Even after the lockdown ends, it will take a lot of time for normalcy to return,' he said.

Mukesh Sharma runs a small shop in Burari. He said since it is Sunday, many shops anyway remain closed, but the situation might improve on Monday.

Madhu Maini has a watches and mobile showroom in south Delhi's Yusuf Sarai market. She said with the clamping of the lockdown, she was paying her employees from her own pocket.

'It is been more than a month that the lockdown is in place. We have been bearing a huge loss. Though, I am paying my employees from my own bank account, but up till when? We don't have unlimited resources,' she said. PTI GVS AMP NIT VIT PR BUN GVS NSD