Lack of clarity on what qualifies as a neighbourhood or standalone store, put paid to government's hopes of reopening shops in non-hotspot coronavirus areas in the country as shopkeepers chose to keep their shutters down. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Friday evening had allowed reopening of registered shops and ones outside municipalities from Saturday onwards provided they operated with only 50 per cent staff and ensured proper social distancing norms. In urban areas, only standalone shops located in a residential area were allowed to sell non-essential items.
"We had welcomed the order but due to confusion over what qualifies as a neighbourhood store or a standalone shop, most retailers opted to remain shut," said Praveen Khandelwal, secretary general, Confederation of All India Traders. "There is no proper definition of these terms so it has created doubt and shopkeepers chose to err on the side of caution. According to our own estimates, around 30 lakh shops in urban areas and another 10 lakh shops in rural areas can be reopened in the wake of the MHA notification."
India has been under a lockdown since March 25, which is slated to end not before May 3. Other than essential services like grocery and pharmaceuticals, no other commercial establishment is allowed to operate in this period. A number of economic experts and industrialists have however said the complete lockdown was too severe for a developing nation like India and some relaxation was required so that the economy can begin to crawl back to life.
"In the national capital of Delhi alone about 75,000 shops can be opened," Khandelwal added. "We have written to home secretary Ajay Bhalla seeking a clarification. They should do it soon otherwise the very motive of the relaxation will fail."