There was reason to smile for those associated with most retail establishments in Maharashtra except those located in malls and shopping centers. As the state of Maharashtra issued orders to resume retail activity, it continued to keep malls shut, disappointing lakhs of people working in malls who were eagerly waiting for their livelihoods to resume.
Malls have been diligently following all Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) on preventive measures issued by the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Government of India, to ensure the safety of the staff and citizens. Malls associated with RAI have also been adhering to the detailed and comprehensive SOPs formulated by RAI to curb the spread of the virus. These SOPs are based on the framework of guidelines endorsed by the Indian Medical Association. Despite this, malls in Maharashtra continue to remain closed.
Kumar Rajagopalan, CEO, Retailers Association of India (RAI), said, “All other states in the country except Maharashtra have allowed malls to open along with other formats of retail. Malls in Maharashtra have been continuously giving assurances about following the required SOPs and structured processes to ensure social distancing and the safety of shoppers. Permitting Malls to operate will pave the way for citizens to shop in a safe and sanitized environment but will also save jobs of lakhs of livelihoods the mall ecosystem supports.”
There is a misconception that being air-conditioned spaces, malls could exacerbate the pandemic situation. There is no medical guideline or evidence that prohibits the use of air conditioners in view of the virus. Moreover, the belief that the virus can spread only through air-conditioned malls and not in any other closed air-conditioned establishments or airlines is not logical. In its office Memorandum dated May 13, 2020, the Central Public Works Department (CPWD) – Government of India, has given clear guidelines on the usage of centralized air conditioners in malls (point no. 3; page no. 2) to prevent the spread of the virus.
Malls and shopping centers are important centers of economic activity. Malls in the state generate a business of ~ Rs 40,000 crore and contribute Rs 4,000 crore in GST, per month. The prolonged closures are impacting more than 2 lakh people employed in about 50 malls in the state. They are also impacting all the businesses associated with malls - on average, a mall has 200 retail stores operating in it and over 5,000 business entities associated with it as suppliers and vendors. Restarting malls along with other markets is critical to ensuring the survival of this ecosystem. The future of lakhs of people and thousands of businesses hangs in balance.