Delhi shops remain shut as owners wait for more clarity
Till 1pm on Sunday, Sanjay Sharma (42), owner of an electric shop in south Delhi’s Munirka village, kept calling his friends in the local market to enquire if they were planning to open their shops.
The Delhi government’s decision on Saturday to implement the Centre’s guidelines for reopening neighbourhood shops and stand-alone stores in residential neighbourhoods had given him hope of reopening his store after a month.
But due to lack of clarity, Sharma and his friends decided to wait for further clarity on the matter. “We don’t want to violate the law and get into trouble. It is better if we keep it closed till things are clear,” said Sharma.
Close to one lakh small traders in the city are likely to benefit, but many didn’t open their shops, citing lack of clarity and fear of police action.
In most residential localities, only grocery stores, chemist shops and those selling vegetables and milk were open on Sunday.
Need for definition
In most residential areas, commercial activity is allowed on the ground floor of many buildings. Due to the rampant commercialisation of residential areas, there are no stand-alone shops anymore.
“My shop is in a residential area, but there are other shops around. What does the government mean by stand-alone shops?” said Anil Chandiok, owner of an electrical appliances store in Acharya Niketan Market of Mayur Vihar Phase 1. “There is little clarity. I asked my staff who stays nearby to open and clean the shop at least,” he said.
Deepak Sabrawal, a trader at Kotla Mubarakpur, said, “For the past two days, we have been getting contradictory orders and reports. Traders in the city are confused. The government should come out with a list of permitted traders.” The police didn’t allow traders here to open the shop.
The issue was also raised by the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) with the Union home ministry on Sunday. Praveen Khandelwal, secretary-general of CAIT, said, “There is no such thing as neighbourhood shops in Delhi. We have sought clarity.”
Traders in local shopping complexes, mainly located in residential areas, said that market complexes should be allowed. “If a stationery store is allowed in a shop operating from a residential building, then why is it not permitted in the neighbourhood market? Moreover, market complexes are planned areas; it is easier to ensure social distancing,” said Rajinder Sharda, president, M-Block market in GK-I.
With shops closed for over a month, most traders said that they have incurred huge losses. Sumit Gupta, the owner of a stationery shop in Patparganj, said, “This is the busiest time of the year for us. With most schools turning to online learning, there is a chance that my business will suffer…Not many know what all is allowed now,” he said.
Not just the traders, but the police were in a quandary too about the relaxations. Till Sunday evening, the Delhi Police had not received any written orders regarding the relaxation from the government.
“In a conference with the chief secretary, we were informed that the markets, malls and shops in the clusters wouldn’t be allowed to open. Once we receive the written orders from the PHQ, we’ll inform our officers on the ground about implementation,” a deputy commissioner of police (DCP) said.
Another DCP said that he plans to allow up to two adjacent shops to open. “Up to two shops is not a cluster. But beyond that, it would be difficult to enforce social distancing,” said the DCP.
While the police refused permission to open shops in some areas, traders in most parts of Delhi didn’t open their stores, fearing police action.
In south Delhi neighbourhoods of Malviya Nagar and Khirki Extension, confusion prevailed.
“Yesterday (Saturday), we had a copy of the Union home ministry’s order on our phones, but the police did not listen to us. Now, we have heard about the CM’s announcement in the news. What is the guarantee that the police will let us function?” said Satpal Rana, a stationery shop owner in Khirki Extension.
On Sunday, Rana opened his shop after around a month, but only for cleaning and dusting. As a few customers approached, he requested them to call him tomorrow.
In north Delhi’s Ashok Vihar, the police did not allow traders to open their shops in the residential area of pocket B, Phase-3, as they had not received such orders.
Pramod Kohli, president, residents’ welfare association, said, “The local police told us that they haven’t received orders yet and from tomorrow (Monday), shops dealing in stationery, electronic items, mobile accessories and other such stores can open.”
Shop owners, who opened their stores, said that there is not enough stock as shops have remained closed for a month now.
Gautam, a resident of Aya Nagar who has an electrical goods store in the area, decided to open his shop on Sunday. While there is a huge demand for fans, coolers and air-conditioners, Gautam says that he doesn’t have stock. “We usually get our stock in March-end, but this time, we couldn’t get it due to the lockdown. We have placed the order, but the supplier doesn’t have stock. There is no point in opening the shop when we don’t have goods,” Gautam said.
Another issue, Gautam pointed out, is of transportation. “There are no rickshaws or cart pullers available. How should we send the goods to customers? The labour is not available due to police fear,” he said.
Residents oppose move
A large number of residents’ welfare associations (RWAs) in the city opposed the government’s decision.
Rejimon CK, member and co-founder of Dwarka Forum (an association of RWAs in Dwarka), said, “The decision to allow neighbourhood shops will only lead to chaos and increase the threat of transmission of Covid-19, as residential areas in Delhi are largely commercial. There is nothing like a stand-alone shop in Delhi. The government should open them in a phased manner.”
Some RWAs did support the government’s decision to relax norms but feel that only essential service providers should be allowed and that too, only in local shopping complexes. “Local complexes have a lot of space and social distancing can be ensured there. Also, open essential services, like electricians, plumbers, mechanics, etc, in areas under the green zone. The government should tell people which municipal wards are in the red zone,” said Atul Goyal, president of URJA, a collective of RWAs in the city.