This is a direct consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic that brought the first lockdown in March-April that forced business across the country to stay closed from 21 days and then for even longer periods, without any preparation. It led to an exodus of the migrant workforce and as train services from certain States have not yet started, the workers are yet to return. The non-availability of the workforce may be one reason, but there are other reasons too, also to do with the pandemic.
Even businesses – here we are referring to small traders, grocers, tea shops and such like – that have opened are running at 50 per cent of their capacity or less. The customers are still few, which is not making business sense to keep the establishment open as it is leading to losses. However, despite losses or low volumes of business, some traders and restaurateurs are still keeping their establishments open, in the hope that the tide will turn and business will increase. With the cases of coronavirus still increasing across the State, the possibility of a return to normalcy keeps getting pushed further, which signifies that the losses incurred in running a business will only further accumulate.
The situation is the same across the State, in all towns, but somehow the loss of business in the villages has not been that bad. One has to merely walk around a town during business hours to see the number of shutters that are down, at a time of day when they would otherwise have been doing brisk business. While shop shutters down may not be the true barometre of how bad the situation is, the applications to local governing bodies seeking cancellations of trade licences, definitely are, as they indicate that the entrepreneur has no intention of restarting the business. While on a daily basis the Directorate of Health Services enumerates the number of COVID cases and deaths due to the virus, who is keeping track of these casualties of the pandemic?
Since the start of the pandemic, the focus has been the health of the people, and rightly so, though the government has slipped quite often even in this, and the mismanagement has allowed COVID-19 cases to escalate and deaths to increase in the State. Not much thought has been given to the small businesses, traders and others who have been as badly affected by the pandemic and its lockdowns, as any other business during this period. While the bigger businesses may have the reserves to tide over for a few months and make a comeback, this is not always possible for the small traders who will face the worst of it all. Their plight is now becoming visible in their anxiety to cancel the trade licences.
While the State administration concentrates on the health issues, it has to also take seriously the business community that is now under tremendous financial pressure. Each establishment that closes not only leads to a loss to the entrepreneur, but there are also a number of jobs lost. The situation is unlikely to ease any time soon, as the number of COVID-19 cases are still on the rise in the State and in the country. We are going to have to live with the virus until such time that there comes a vaccine. Before it becomes more difficult for small traders to manage, the government has to step in with a plan to save these who are also casualties of the pandemic.