KARACHI: Traders have delayed their earlier decision to reopen their businesses from Wednesday (today) amid the restrictions imposed to flatten the coronavirus curve and presented a set of demands to the government that include provision of cash grants and interest-free loans.
“Traders in all four provinces are in talks with the authorities and we want shops to open soon,” Naeem Mir, the president of the Anjuman-e-Tajiran Pakistan, told The Express Tribune.
“We have presented our demands to the government. They include Rs100,000 cash grants for small businessmen, Qarz-e-Hasana [interest-free loans] of Rs500,000 for medium-level traders and easy loans of Rs5 million for those with big businesses,” he added.
Rizwan Irfan, the president of the Karachi Electronic Dealers Association, said the shopkeepers in the city had agreed to keep markets closed for two more days after talks with the commissioner and the police chief.
Earlier, the traders in Sindh, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan had decided to defy the country lockdown after the government announced allowing “low-risk” industries to operate amid the restrictions while those in Punjab sought permission to operate for a limited time during the day.
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The traders body in Sindh was the first to make the announcement, setting off a domino effect with those in K-P and Balochistan also following suit and the association in Punjab also demanding partial resumption of activities.
Addressing a news conference in Karachi, the leaders of the Sindh Tajir Ittehad said the traders had suffered massive losses because of the nearly month-long lockdown.
“Traders have paid salaries to their employees for the month but if the lockdown continues, they will be left with no other option but to sack them,” he added.
“We will open our shops even if the police arrest us.”
Speaking on the occasion, Sharjil Goplani, the president of the All-City Tajir Ittehad Association, said the lockdown from Kashmore to Karachi had taken its toll on the small traders and their workers.
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Mehmod Hamid, the president of the cottage industry association’s Karachi chapter, announced that shops would remain open 9pm to 5pm from Wednesday.
Later, the traders of Balochistan made a similar announcement.
Speaking at a news conference in Quetta, Abdul Rahim Kakar, the president of the Markazi Anjuman Tajiran, Balochistan, said the province’s traders would start reopening their business in phases from Wednesday.
“We will reopen dry fruit shops in the first phase,” he added. “Dry fruit and dates are rotting because of the lockdown.”
Kakar further said the lockdown was not only inflicting financial losses on the traders but also taking a psychological toll on them.
In Peshawar, United Business Group leader Ilyas Ahmad Bilour also announced the reopening of markets and shops.
“Small traders are starving because of the lockdown,” he added.
A delegation of traders met Punjab Industries, Commerce and Investment Minister Mian Muhammad Aslam Iqbal and sought permission to operate for limited hours during the day.
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Mian Anjum, the president of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry, said allowing industries to reopen would be useless if the shops that sell their products would remain closed. “I suggest opening 33% of the markets. That will allow social distancing too,” he added.
Sindh Information Minister Nasir Hussain Shah warned traders of strict action if they violated the restrictions.
“The Sindh government is preparing standard operating procedures (SOPs) under which industries that have been allowed by the government to operate will have to follow,” he added.
(With input from our correspondents in Quetta, Lahore and Peshawar)