Depleted workforce, few buyers: New normal for Delhi markets post lockdown?
Besides few buyers, Sarojini Nagar and several other markets in the national capital are struggling with the loss of labour due to the Covid-19 lockdown.
It has been nearly a week since the Delhi government allowed markets in the city to re-open, announcing that they would no longer be bound by odd-even restrictions as the country entered the lockdown 5.0 or unlock phase-I.
But for Ata-ul-Alam, a small garment shop owner at Sarojini Nagar Market, the announcement hasn’t made any difference to his business.
Since June 1, when the markets across the city re-opened, not a single customer turned up to his shop. Before the lockdown, Alam says, he would earn more than Rs 10,000 per day.
Besides few buyers, Sarojini Nagar and several other markets in the national capital are struggling with the loss of labour due to the Covid-19 lockdown.“Even I can’t imagine myself taking a nap on a Saturday afternoon at my shop...this is the reality that will take some time for me to accept and adjust to. I was sitting at home for so many days during the lockdown and had gone into a depression mode, so I thought of reopening the shop,” Alam says.
Hailing from Bihar’s Kishanganj district, Alam hasn’t earned anything in the last two months. His family of four has been surviving on his savings.“I didn’t go back to my home town, my brothers did. There’s hardly any customer. So, I am ready to sell my products even at half price,” he added.Ashish, another garment store owner at the market, has a similar story to narrate.
“People don’t have to go to offices; colleges are shut. Hence, they don’t bother to buy new clothes. If even a few customers turn up, they mostly buy clothes for their home which cost around `50-`100 only... It will take at least a year to recover from the loss,” Ashish says.
About 25 per cent of the workforce comes from NCR cities. As the borders remained sealed till Sunday, a large chunk of the workforce couldn’t reach the markets. Most shop owners also claimed that despite resuming their work, they are facing a huge problem in running the business smoothly as their workers have returned to their villages.
“I had five men at my shop, three went back to their villages during the lockdown. I don’t think they are not coming back any time soon. But to be honest, I don’t have enough money to pay their salaries,” said Sunil Kumar, who runs a garment shop at a busy Lajpat Nagar market.
Most of the people working in the stores are from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand, and according to shop owners, 50-60 per cent of them have returned to their native places.Vinod Singh, another shop owner at Lajpat Nagar, says due to the absence of enough workforce, the pressure is mounting on the existing staff.
“I have clothes at my store, but customers are not stepping out for non-essential shopping. We are even struggling to pay the shop’s rent. With the coronavirus positive cases growing every day, I don’t think the customers and my employees would return soon, fearing the pandemic,” Singh says.
The absence of labourers has also affected the trading of goods and items. Ballav Aggarwal, who has a wholesale shop of garments in Lajpat Nagar, says he is unable to deliver and meet demands of customers as there is limited manpower to help him.
“Currently, I am with half of my total workforce, but I didn’t stop them when they wanted to go back. I think they took the right decision since many of them were staying alone in the city. But then, my business has badly hit. As of now, I am running late in delivering the goods,” he laments.
Most of the shop owners claim that they are not going to order fresh stock of products any time soon.
“Weddings are getting cancelled, no events are happening...what will we do with the new collections? No one will buy them. Cases are increasing in Delhi every day, who will step out...and it is equally risky for us,” Sonu Khurana, another shop owner at Sarojini Nagar, says.
Market associations unhappy with govt
Visibly angry, Sanjeev Mehra, president of the Khan Market Traders’ Association and the owner of Allied Toy Store, says the Delhi government had imposed the lockdown without proper planning and vision. “The footfall is much less than what we had expected.
Youngsters, our main buyers, are not coming out. The footfall is only 35 per cent, which is much less than what we were expecting... We have no expectations from the Delhi government as it had imposed the lockdown without proper planning. Now, it has allowed to re-open restaurants. The social distancing will go for a toss. Also, shop owners should be given a loan at 2-3 per cent interest rate such as MSMEs. It would help us to survive,” says Mehra.
The wholesale markets also restarted full-fledged trading on Tuesday, but they face a labour shortage and stare at an uphill task of repairing the broken demand-supply chain.
Sanjay Bhargava, president of Chandni Chowk Sarv Vyapar Mandal, says the wholesale markets should have been allowed on alternative days.
“I only opened shops for just three in the last one week. It is very frustrating as there has been hardly any customer in the market. But the traders got the opportunity to take care of their stock at their shops and godowns. Several markets in the vicinity have voluntarily had decided to pull down shutters after Covid-19 cases emerged there. A handful of people who have weddings in their families are coming out for shopping... But congested markets should be allowed with a staggering arrangement. The wholesale and retail markets should have been allowed on alternative days,” Bhargava says.
“The market was closed after reports of positive cases here and nearby Kinari Bazaar. Shopkeepers themselves decided to shut markets and a final decision to re-open the market will be taken on Sunday evening. The opening of shops will instil confidence in buyers and traders,” Vinit Seth, general secretary of the Dariba Kalan Jewellers Association.
Safety priority for shoppers
Netra Bansal along with her friend Pallavi Kukreja, who visited the Sarojini Nagar Market, says it is the first time they stepped out of their homes post-lockdown 4.0. “It feels good to be back at the market, but there are hardly any customers, something we are not used to at Sarojini Nagar. But then there’s no issue of social distancing,” Pallavi, a second-year student of Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, says.
Akriti Sharma, an HR professional who was out with her mother at Lajpat Nagar Market, says safety will always remain their priority.“It was urgent to buy some essential items, so we had to come out. Otherwise, I am reluctant to make my mother step out of the house. The market is still not overcrowded, so it’s a relief as of today,” Akriti says.