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Small traders brace for heavy losses again as Covid tones down Holi celebration for the second consecutive year

Last year in 2020 when Holi was cancelled due to our very own COVID-19, we said it was a matter of time before things go back to normal. Lockdown after lockdown, months after months and here we are, standing at another cancelled Holi, the second in two consecutive years. While the first one took place when people actually feared the virus, which they should do even now, giving extra attention to the mentioned statistics, the economic losses have been brazen both times which we aim to discuss as we move forward.
We know the virus never really went away, it just painted a false picture of going away for a while only to come back stronger with more infectious than original variants and mutants. Keeping in consideration the fact that since 26 February 2021, India’s daily new cases rose by 258% and active cases by 163%, many states and union territories-imposed restrictions on the celebration of the festival in accordance with the central government guidelines while also covering other spring festivals around the corner. These states include some big names like Delhi, Rajasthan and Maharashtra, the cost of which the traders estimated to be more than last year’s hit. The Delhi Disaster Management Authority on Tuesday ordered that there will be no public celebrations in the national capital during upcoming festivals such as Holi and Navaratri, by adding that “All authorities concerned will ensure that public celebrations and gatherings, congregations during upcoming festivals like Holi, Shab-e-Barat, Navaratri etc. shall not be allowed in public places/ public grounds/ public parks/ markets/ religious places etc. in the National Capital Territory (NCT) of Delhi,” Chief Secretary Vijay Dev said in the order. This came into effect after the central government issued a circular advising all states and union territories to impose restrictions days ahead of the upcoming festival season under section 22 of the disaster management act.
Last year, the Confederation of All India Traders said, traders of the country lost close to Rs 20,000 crore as Covid resulted in a relatively toned-down Holi. This year, CAIT (Confederation of All India Traders) estimated a hit of around Rs 25,000 crore, significantly larger than last year’s losses. What was different between last year and this year’s Holi celebrations was the fact that last year, Holi took place at a considerably reduced rate only after the honourable Prime Minister of India Mr Narendra Modi inspired and urged the country to avoid celebrations and maintain social distancing due to the pandemic. However, many still took place. No particular restrictions, however, were in place unlike this year, when states actually released guidelines and banned public Holi gatherings. This led to stockpiling up with traders that were all set with the stock of Holi material like pichkaris, colours and balloons since early February when COVID deceived us with hopes of going away. This resulted in the association estimating the more adverse impact on businesses this year. With most states also imposing night curfews and banning gatherings, a lot fewer celebrations took place, leading not only to losses in terms of sales of Holi material but also losses in the entertainment industry, sweet businesses and caterers, which usually are a significant part of the Holi gatherings.
To take a note of how the ban impositions would’ve impacted, consider the fact that around 40,000 gatherings take place across the country during Holi, with Delhi itself contributing to about 8 per cent of it. Undoubtedly, Maharashtra is generally another big contributor in the Holi gatherings tally of the country, especially with all the Bollywood celebrity parties we kept hearing about in the media during the pre-Covid times. Maharashtra, however, has also been the witness to one of the greatest coronavirus surges in the recent 2021 case records, solely contributing to more than 50 per cent active cases in the country, with the number surging high every day. Considering the rise in Covid-19 cases, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) on Tuesday announced that Holi celebrations, on March 28 and 29, will not be permitted in both private and public places. The civic body in a circular announced a ban on Holi celebrations in both private and public places. Action will be taken against violators under the Epidemic Diseases Act of 1897 and Disaster Management Act, 2005, it was stated.
“Anticipating low demand, many traders did not place fresh orders for pichkaris and Holi colours and they just pushed the old stock in the markets. The restrictions have certainly impacted the city’s small traders and those who are engaged in seasonal businesses,” said B C Bhartia, National President of Confederation of All India Traders. Bhartia also said that the sale of food items and sweets has also suffered a major blow due to uncertainty in the markets on account of the coronavirus. So, while the virus messed with people’s festive mood, it also took a hit on the recovering economy of the country, especially the small and medium businesses that already had a hard time getting back on their feet after the pandemic. A seasonal retailer who deals in Holi specific items reported, “Usually, we start selling these items about 15 days before the festival and the sale is at its peak on the eve of Holi. But in the current season, there was confusion among all of us with regard to the lockdown,” adding that he could sell pichkaris and colour packets worth only Rs 5,000 in the last one week. “Under the normal circumstances, I could have done business of at least Rs 50,000.” It is saddening to see the impact the virus has had on our lives for the past one year and honestly, we can’t see it leaving anytime soon either.

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