MUMBAI: Hospitality associations across Maharashtra on Thursday organised statewide silent protests, under the aegis of the United Hospitality Forum of Maharashtra (UHF), against the government's recent lockdown order.
Lakhs of restaurants participated in the silent protest with their employees standing outside the establishments holding placards, the Hotel and Restaurant Association of Western India (HRAWI) said in a statement.
HRAWI President Sherry Bhatia said, "The hospitality industry demands fair play and justice. We request the government to either allow us to continue regular operations with the mandated SOPs (standard operating procedures) or permanently shut us down, rather than keep us half alive and in a state of misery."
He said the industry operates in the safest of environments and follow all the mandated compliances.
"A majority of the establishments have mounting debts and face threats of insolvency along with millions of job losses."
With fear of losing jobs like last year, many workers have begun to leave for their homes again, he added.
"Through our silent protests today, we are requesting the government to allow us to resume our work and if not, the government must take care of our incomes."
"The industry should get a complete waiver on all statutory fees and taxes, and establishments should not be billed for water and electricity for the duration of the curbs," Bhatia added.
The campaign #MissionRoziRoti has gained momentum on social media with several restaurateurs and hoteliers in the state posting pictures, messages, and videos showing support and solidarity to the campaign.
The hospitality associations rallying against the latest lockdown across the state include Poona Hoteliers Association, United Hotel Association Pune, Nagpur Hotel and Restaurant Association, Aurangabad Hotel and Restaurant Association, Vasai Taluka Hotel Association, Hotel Owners' association of Thane, Navi Mumbai Hotel Association, and Palghar Hotel Association.
The protest was also supported by various city- and district-level hospitality associations from Beed, Amaravati, Nanded, Hingoli, Jalna, Parbhani, Aurangabad, Satara, Osmanabad, and Vasind, among others.
The All India Gem and Jewellery Domestic Council (GJC) has urged Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray to allow the opening of jewellery retail stores in the state during the festive occasion of Gudi Padwa (New Year for Maharashtrians), which is an important day for buying wedding jewellery.
In a letter written to the CM on Wednesday, GJC said Gudi Padwa is one of the most important festivals for Maharashtra, and every year, jewellery business witnesses a 30-40 per cent spike in sales.
"Currently, thousands of customers have placed orders for the festival, which are pending delivery.
Due to the lockdown and closure of retail outlets, the retailers are unable to supply the goods to the customers for Gudi Padwa and their weddings," the letter stated.
GJC represents over six lakh players pan-India comprising manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, distributors, laboratories, gemologists, designers and allied services to the domestic gems and jewellery industry.
GJC Chairman Ashish Pethe said, "Maharashtra, especially Mumbai, is a major hub for thousands of wholesalers and manufacturers. It is also the biggest market for diamond exports and majority of the jewellery across India and globally is supplied from the Zaveri Bazaar."
He added that Maharashtra also houses lakhs of jewellers and artisans who have migrated from all parts of India.
"The above imposed lockdown will have repercussions on the entire nation and its supply chain."
GJC has also urged the chief minister to allow jewellers to open stores during Gudi Padwa and other summer harvest festivals such as Ugadi, Chaitra Navratri and Jhulelal Jayanti.
The apex jewellers' body also asked the Maharashtra government to allow them to operate during the upcoming wedding season in the April-June quarter.
The Maharashtra government on Sunday announced a weekend lockdown in the state from 8 pm on Friday to 7 am on Monday in a bid to curb the growing numbers of COVID-19 cases in the state.
The new lockdown restrictions, 'Break the Chain', imposed from April 5 till April 30.
Apart from the weekend lockdown, strict restrictions will be in force from Monday 8 pm onwards, and night curfew will continue and prohibitory orders issued under Section 144 will be enforced during the day time during the week.
Pethe said the industry is seeing an upward graph but now with new lockdown restrictions in April, the livelihood of many craftsmen and self-employed jewellers will be affected and their families will suffer.
"In Mumbai, the industry does Rs 200-300 crore business only from Zaveri Bazaar daily. If we calculate the entire state, the numbers will be huge and so will be the loss to the industry, resulting in job loss of lakh of artisans," he told PTI.
World Gold Council India Managing Director Somasundaram P R told PTI that this is a setback as the jewellery business had started crawling back to near normal and retailers were upbeat about the upcoming festive season for Gudi Padwa, Udagi and Chaitra Navratri.
"The gold prices also seemed favourable for the consumers with over 10 per cent drop to Rs 45,000 per 10 grams from historic highs of above Rs 55,000."
However, in some pockets due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases, there is a major clamp down on businesses by the respective state governments," he added.
Somasundaram also said this has dampened trade sentiment and will definitely impact gold buying.
However, the situation should be better than the same time previous year when the entire country was under strict lockdown, he added.
"We anticipate good business in southern and northern India where jewellery stores are able to function normally and digital sales are expected to benefit in areas where there are curbs on the retail stores. However frequent lockdowns, regional or not, will hit trade confidence," he added.
Kumar Jain of UT Zaveri told PTI that the situation is bad for the industry as Zaveri Bazaar houses 3,000 shops, 35,000-40,000 small manufacturing units and small offices where around 2-2.5 lakh artisans are employed.
"Zaveri Bazaar has completely come to a standstill, which is going to create unemployment for the artisans if the restrictions are not eased soon," he said.
PNG Jewellers Chairman and Managing Director Saurabh Gadgil said the gems and jewellery industry is likely to incur up to Rs 1,000 crore loss if the restrictions are not eased in the state.
"The situation for the industry is not good as the expenses are going up including rents, maintenance, salaries of the staff, and bank interests taxes, among others."
"Meanwhile, the artisans, of which 70 per cent have come back from the previous lockdown, are thinking of going back to their hometowns. Bringing back the artisans is a 2-3 months process and will affect production. This will cost the industry huge loss," he added.
WHP Jewellers Director Aditya Pethe stated that the organised retail stores are following all the social distancing guidelines like compulsory masks, sanitisation, limited number of customers in the store as per the square feet of the store.
Therefore, instead of the lockdown, the government can focus on vaccinating people faster while social distancing guidelines are followed more strictly and penalise those who are not following the norms, he said.
"I hope the state government rethinks the lockdown decision otherwise this will severely affect the retail industry and small traders who will not be able to sustain another lockdown and will be forced to go against this decision as it is a question of their survival," he added.