Vehicles stuck on MG Road during a COVID-19 induced lockdown, in Thiruvananthapuram on Friday. Image Credit: ANI

Thiruvananthapuram: Traders in Kerala have put off their decision to keep shops open on all days from July 15.

This follows an intervention by the Chief Mnister Pinarayi Vijayan who called up Kerala Vyapari Vyavasayo Ekopana Samithi president T. Nasiruddin and promised to review their demands.

Earlier, Kerala’s months-long intermittent lockdowns that devastated the business sector in general and small traders in particular reached a flash point when shop owners in the state, led by their peers in Kozhikode, decided to open all shops on Thursday.

Talks between the traders’ organisation, the Vyapari Vyavasayi Ekopana Samithi (KVVES) and the Kozhikode district collector on Wednesday failed to reach a consensus on the traders’ demand to let them open shops on all days.

Current lockdown protocol in Kerala permits shops to open only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. A few sections in the retail trade have been exempted from the three-day business week, including vegetable and provision shops and medical stores.

The vast majority of small traders have been forced into financial doom owing to the lockdowns and are at breaking-point. The flash point was reached on Tuesday when shop owners in Kozhikode clashed with police over opening their outlets and later in the day chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan warned the traders on a threatening note.

Confrontational path

“The government will deal with the issue appropriately and they can play their game accordingly,” Vijayan said on Tuesday after traders in Kozhikode had clashed with police over opening of shops.

That led to the traders also hardening their stance. Sethumadhavan, KVVES state secretary, said after the talks with the district collector on Wednesday that the government turned down the organisation’s request to permit shops to open on all days.

Kerala State Vyapari Vyavasayi Samithi president V.K.C. Mammed Koya said the closure of shops was based on unscientifically calculated test positivity rates and this could not be accepted. “Several sectors in the state have got government support to tide over the financial crisis, but the trading sector has got none”, he said.

Begging bowl protest

In Badiaduka in Kasaragod, Kerala’s northern-most district, traders held a protest on Tuesday holding begging bowls to demonstrate their opposition to the three week-long shutdown in the area.

The traders’ key contention is that bakeries, medical shops and provision and vegetable shops alone are permitted to open all days while all other traders have been pushed into deep financial crisis.

Most business sectors in Kerala have been severely impacted by multiple waves of lockdowns beginning from early last year. From textile outlets and hardware stores to theatres and educational institutions businesses are reeling under a revenue crunch. Many traders have also had to see their stocks rotting, rusting or being destroyed owing to lapse of time.

IMA for opening shops

The Indian Medical Association has criticized the state government’s “unscientific” approach to lockdowns, saying that unimaginative lockdown decisions have only increased the chances for the spread of COVID-19. The IMA has called for opening shops and offices on all days in order to avoid crowding.

Meanwhile, Badusha, a production controller in the Malayalam movie industry shared a social media post in which he said many film artistes and others in the industry had been pushed to the brink of suicide.

“Whoever could help has helped us. What is required now is the compassion of the government. There are many who have been pushed into poverty. I humbly request the chief minister to please understand their problems and give permission to reopen theatres and restart film shoots”, Badusha wrote.