Kashmir traders warn of adverse impact of lockdown, seek stimulus

‘Hospitalisation rates, not case count, should determine restrictions’

Published - January 29, 2022 08:01 pm IST - SRINAGAR

Srinagar,29/1/2022:A view of closed market during COVID-19 lockdown in Srinagar, Saturday, 29, January 2022. Photo:NISSAR AHMAD/The Hindu.

Srinagar,29/1/2022:A view of closed market during COVID-19 lockdown in Srinagar, Saturday, 29, January 2022. Photo:NISSAR AHMAD/The Hindu.

Facing prolonged spells of lockdowns since 2019, traders in Kashmir resort to lay-offs, sale of manufacturing units and switch to businesses of daily consumables to survive the nose-diving incomes, as the authorities continue to impose a 64-hour weekend lockdown.There are growing voices among the traders’ body on Saturday which seek a review of the lockdown practice.

Niyaz Ahmad, a resident of the old city’s Rajouri Kadal, has shut his high-end kitchenware shop and sells eatables in a mobile van in the interiors of Srinagar city.

“People seem to have stopped spending on luxury items. I sell eatables and plastic items in the interiors of the city where police crackdown on shopkeepers is less. I have two daughters, one in college and another about to get married later this year. If the lockdown continues, I am not sure if I can pay the college fee and have my daughter’s wedding,” Mr. Ahmad said.

Besides top brand multi-purpose shops, many manufacturing units have also laid off employees and put their units on sale. “Market is not consistent. Purchasing capacity has gone down since 2019. It’s time to sell daily consumables and sell off the factories that are not able to fetch enough money,” Iftikhar Ahmad, a joinery factory owner, said.Kashmir saw its first prolonged lockdown after the Centre ended J&K’s special constitutional position on August 5, 2019. According to the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCCI), the losses for the period were more than ₹17,000 crores. It was followed by two prolonged spells of lockdown in the face of COVID waves in 2020 and 2021.

The J&K authorities have again imposed a 64-hour lockdown from Friday afternoon till Monday morning in the wake of the third wave. However, traders’ bodies are opposing the move and seeking a stimulus from the government to survive.

“The fresh lockdown has adversely impacted the livelihood of daily wagers and the business community.Financial instability has marred the community. Weurge Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha to announce a financial sustenance package,” KCCI president Sheikh Ashiq said.Traders were also demanding a loan waiver for the lockdown periods.

Tourism, which was seeing an upward trend of late, is also hit badly again. “The lockdown has sent alarm to the travelers.Around 50 percent of tourist influx has come down,” Kashmir Economic Forum presidentShowkat Chowdhary said.

He said if the shopkeepers and restaurants were not allowed to function with proper SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures), they would turn into non-performing assets.According to official figures, J&K has45,156 active COVID-19 cases, with more than 4,000 cases being reported on a daily basis. In spite of a sizable section of positive cases, official figures suggested that against5,038 COVID beds, only 546 (10.83%) are occupied till January 28, reflecting lower hospitalisations compared to the first and second waves.

“Hospitalisation rates, not case count, should determine curbs and restrictions,” said Doctors Association of Kashmir president and influenza expert Dr. Nisar ul Hassan said.

He said the daily case count was used as a barometer early in the pandemic to impose restrictions “but Omicron has changed those metrics”.

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