Coronavirus lockdown: Retail outlets stay shut despite MHA relaxation

Kolkata: Large and small retail stores stayed shut in most parts of the country over the weekend despite the ministry of home affairs (MHA) announcing certain exemptions from the Covid-19 lockdown on Friday.

Some states refused to relax the shutdown and retailers said there was lack of clarity on what constituted ‘neighbourhood’ and ‘standalone’ stores, which are allowed to operate according to the ministry, creating confusion among local authorities.

Haryana, Rajasthan, Delhi, Goa, Kerala, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh permitted retailers to sell non-essentials after the MHA orders. But retailers said local administrations didn’t agree and many stores were forced to shut by the police. Most retailers and trade bodies now expect they will be allowed to open only after the lockdown which is scheduled to end on May 3 but states have said that opening up may take time and happen in phases, especially in Covid-19 hotspots.

Mobile phone retail chain Sangeetha Mobiles opened 120 of its 260 outlets in Karnataka after the state allowed the sale of mobile recharges and connections, but local police forced them to shut, said managing director Subhash Chandra.


‘Proper Notification Needed’

“There is a lot of confusion at the ground level and we expect the states and local administration to issue a proper notification so that we can operate peacefully,” he said.

States such as Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have clearly specified no shops or industrial activities will be allowed till the lockdown ends. The home ministry has said that shopping malls and non-essential stores in ‘market complexes’ won’t be allowed to open.

The Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) asked the ministry to define a ‘neighbourhood’ shop, since “there are several interpretations by the authorities and as such shops allowed by the MHA order are yet to open”. CAIT is a lobby group that represents small retailers.

The association has also asked the Centre to clarify whether all shops can open or only a few dealing with non-essential goods.

“Further, it has been noticed that there is lack of consensus among the administration and law enforcing agency with the result that traders are not allowed to open the shops,” the letter said, citing the example of states where local governments have allowed this.

CAIT secretary general Praveen Khandelwal said one or two shops may have opened at best on Sunday, whereas it had expecting at least 3 million would be able to do so after the MHA order.

The All India Mobile Retailers Association national president Arvinder Khurana said state governments and local authorities should give clear guidelines, without which it is difficult to open stores.

“A lot of clarity is required in government orders so that it is clear for everyone,” he said. “Some shops opened in places like Delhi but were forced to shut down by noon. Now, without clear guidelines from Centre and states, all retailers are in fear to open shops.”

Retailers Association of India CEO Kumar Rajagopalan said the current MHA circular is open to interpretation and needs more clarity for easier implementation considering terms like ‘market complexes’ are not easily understood. RAI represents big retailers.

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