Lockdown 3.0: More stores expected to reopen, but confusion reigns, retailers say

NEW DELHI: And traders hope to reopen more starting Monday under new relaxed government guidelines for the period extended through May 17, though they still seek clarity from local authorities.

The Indian Retail Association (RAI) said we will have to see how it works on the ground as there are confusion , and many states have yet to develop guidelines for following the Center's decision. You have already stated that what constitutes markets could be misinterpreted.

Similarly, Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) also claimed they will be in a "dilemma" as there is confusion over "what constitutes a neighbourhood shop and a standalone shop", while organised retailers such as Future Group and V-Mart Retail said they are also seeking permissions from local authorities.

Some parts of business will reopen. What we see is that there is the possibility of opening some independent stores ... We will open where we can and we will speak with the local authorities to open. We will have to see how it works.

In either case, individual states will have to present clear guidelines. Although some states have presented the guidelines but they are the same as the Center has said. I think states are also confused and are printing the same thing that The Center is sending, RAI CEO Kumar Rajagopalan told PTI.

Expressing similar concerns, CAIT Secretary General Praveen Khandelwal said: Merchants will be in a dilemma.

When asked whether things are expected to change on the ground with the phase 3 of lockdown beginning Monday, he said there is "lack of clarity and confusion over what constitutes a neighbourhood shop and a standalone shop".

He stated that the clarification must come from the correct neighborhoods. Not only the Center, it is the duty of the state governments to issue this clarification because most of the matters are under the domain of the state governments, the police authorities also function according to their directives.

National Secretary General of the All India Federation Vyapar Mandal, VK Bansal said: The biggest problem with the guidelines is that it all depends on the states. States frame their own policies and do not want to take responsibility. The Center wants relaxation but the states are restrictive.

While wholesale markets cannot open in red zones in Delhi, he said, independent stores may open, but the role of the state government was crucial in implementing the Center's guidelines.

Bansal added that the unavailability of migrant labor was a major problem faced by store owners, who restricted their operations.

According to leading retail group Future, the company would now start selling non-essential products and food whenever allowed after the new notification.

Within Big Bazar, we could now sell not only essential food and items, but also other items such as tableware, kitchen utensils, and general merchandise. Even at Big Bazaar, in certain places we would start selling other products besides food, he said. A future official of the group.

The Future Group, which operates in various formats such as the Big Bazaar department store and neighboring Easyday store, said the company is in the process of obtaining permission to open stores in the green zone.

Wherever we have independent stores in the green zone, we are also checking with authorities when to start operating, the official said.

According to another Future group official, most of its large-format stores like Big Bazaar are located in shopping malls, which have remained closed even during the second phase of closure.

Big Bazaars' independent stores were already operating. Some of our stores are in areas that are not shopping malls and we have written to local authorities asking for permission for that, he said.

About 80 percent of Big Bazaar stores are operational with various restrictions, such as time, number of visits, and retail activities limited to essential items only, the official said.

Fashion and lifestyle product retailer V-Mart Retail also said it is preparing to open stores in the green and orange zone, but reiterated the need to clarify the difference between shopping malls and independent stores, especially in small towns.

We have around 62 stores in the green zone and 98 in orange, where there are possibilities that the stores will open. We are in talks with local administration to allow stores to open, said the president of V-Mart Retail and MD Lalit. Agarwal said.

However, he said it will be a gradual opening as people would initially hesitate to enter the store.

We expect all of our stores to open gradually and in the initial month only 20 percent of customers would visit, Agarwal said.

He sought greater clarity from the government on the differentiation between a mall and independent retailers.

In small towns, there are no shopping malls and they (local authorities) misinterpret small independent stores like us for a shopping mall and forbid us to operate, Agarwal said.

According to MHA guidelines, shopping malls will continue to be closed in all areas.

In the red zone, all shopping malls, market complexes and markets will remain closed in urban areas, which are within the boundaries of municipal corporations and municipalities. However, stores that sell essential products in markets and market complexes are allowed.

All independent stores, neighborhood stores, and stores in residential complexes are permitted in urban areas with no restrictions on essentials and nonessentials. In rural areas, all stores, except shopping malls, can open without distinction between the essential and the non-essential, but social distance must be maintained in all cases.

In green and amber areas, there are no such restrictions for independent markets, neighborhoods and shops.