Shopkeepers protest against govt's decision on closure of shops selling non-essential items in Pb

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Chandigarh, May 4 (PTI) Traders and shopkeepers in Punjab held protests at some places on Tuesday against the state government's order of closure of shops dealing in non-essential items, saying this will further hit them hard.

The Punjab government on Sunday ordered the closure of all shops not selling essential commodities till May 15 as part of the additional restrictions imposed in the state in the wake of a rising number of COVID-19 cases and fatalities.

Only shops dealing in medicines and essential items such as milk, bread, vegetables, fruits, dairy and poultry products, meat and mobile repairing are allowed to operate.

'This decision of the government will further add to the woes of the small shopkeepers and traders, who have already suffered mounting losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic,' Punjab Pradesh Beopar Mandal general secretary Sameer Jain said.

'Closing shops (selling non-essential items) in the entire state will hit the small shopkeepers hard,' he said while pointing out that the state government has not announced any relief package for the shopkeepers battling the adverse economic impact of COVID-19.

He said the state government should at least not enforce the order at places where the number of coronavirus cases is not high.

Traders said protests were held at Barnala, Ludhiana, Jalalabad, Hoshiarpur and some other places and demanded that they be allowed to open their shops.

They said with the closure of shops, it would be difficult for them to pay salaries to their employees and bear the electricity charges and other expenses.

Sangrur-based trader Jaswinder Singh said the government should give a rebate in taxes to the shopkeepers for the period when the shops remain closed.

Ludhiana-based trader Sunil Mehra, who participated in a protest in Ludhiana, slammed the Congress government in the state for announcing the decision of closure of shops dealing in non-essential goods.

It will render several labourers jobless, he said.

Instead of closure, the government can propose alternative solutions like opening of shops following the odd-even formula, Mehra said.

Meanwhile, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) asked the government to extend the timings for the opening of shops and allow all shops to open.

In a statement issued here, SAD leader and former Punjab minister Daljit Singh Cheema said the government should take all necessary steps to ensure that there is no overcrowding at markets but simultaneously, it should also make sure that all shops are allowed to do business in a regulated manner.

He also demanded a tax waiver for the transport sector till the COVID situation normalises and the economy limps back to normal.

Cheema said it is unfortunate that the transport sector has not been offered any relief package by the government.

He said school buses were lying idle for more than a year. The same was the case with autorickshaw and taxi operators, the SAD leader said, adding that trucks are functioning partly and are already burdened by a hike in diesel rates. PTI CHS VSD RC