In spite of relaxation the lockdown, small traders in Tamil Nadu are facing hardships due to a different stance than the government by the local-level officials like the police and village administrative officers (VAOs) exploiting their newfound powers. Despite the relaxations, it is mandatory for the small traders to have police and VAO’s permission to open the shops.
For instance, the hairdressing saloons were exempted by the state government and were given permission to operate. But the police officials ordered that the shops be shut again. When the shop owners showed the government order, the police personnel did not agree and asked said that a separate letter should be written to the circle inspector seeking permission to run the shop.
Harassed by the new rule of the police, the Tamil Nadu Hairdressers’ Union moved the Madras High Court seeking permission to open the shops across the state without any conditions.
“In the past two months, we haven’t opened the shops. Most of the shops are running in rental spaces. Though the government has advised the building owners not to collect rent, it is not followed in reality. Besides police, the VAOs too are not permitting us to open the shops. They say they haven’t received any circulars so far,” alleged Praveen Kumar, social media executive, the Villupuram-based Tamil Nadu Hairdressers’ Social Welfare Protection Association.
The police cited the violation of social distancing norms as the main reason behind ordering the closure of the saloons; however, Kumar allays the fears.
“We have asked our members to disinfect the shops five times a day. Instead of making the customers wait, we are following the appointment system. The tools we are using are cleansed with sanitisers. Those who are in well-off conditions are using aprons and gloves while cutting the hairs. Others are using masks and towels also,” said Kumar.
Hairdressing shops are not the only ones to be suffering under police orders, but also other standalone shops like hardware and electricals are reeling in losses due to it.
When asked about this, K. Devaraj, general secretary, Tamil Nadu Federation of Traders’ Association said that only in the containment areas, the police orders the shops to shut.
“We heard that in some parts of the state, the police are very strict about the lockdown rules. If the shops are open even after stipulated time or if they do not follow social distancing, those shops are ordered to shut. In some areas the district collectors, corporation commissioners, and VAOs are not allowing the shops to function if there are an increasing number of cases in the particular area. For example, in Chennai almost all areas shops are opened, but in Royapuram, after seeing a spike in the cases, the Corporation asked all shops to be shut,” he said.
“However, everywhere the standalone provisional stores are functioning. Only the ‘supermarket’ kind of departmental stores are not allowed to function,” said Devaraj.
Earlier there were media reports claiming that some of the villages near the industrial estates such as SIDCO in Tiruvallur and Chengalpattu districts were staging demonstrations and stopped company buses from entering villages to pick up the employees. The villagers feared that if the employees from the villages go to companies, work and return, they might get affected by COVID and thereby spread it among other villagers too.
However, after the interference of company delegates and district officials, the villagers were convinced.
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Ramamurthy, President, Coimbatore District Small Scale Industries Association said, since many of the migrant workers have gone to their native places, the industries in Coimbatore are now operating only with 35 per cent of employees.
“This is the second week of relaxation given to industries. But we still have a slow start. There is no demand. We are not producing anything new. Only stocks are moving. It is doubtful if we will have consumers for new products. So the raw materials are lying idle” he said.
The state has ordered that the government offices can function with 50 per cent of staff. But many are unable to attend their duty since they are in containment zones.
“Moreover, there is no public transport. How can you expect the employees attendance? Fortunately, so far there is no order on taking actions against the employees who fail to attend their work” said P. Elangovan, coordinator, Joint Action Committee of Tamil Nadu Teachers Organisations and Government Employees Organisations.