RAWALPINDI: Traders across the garrison city violated the first day of a nine-day lockdown in Punjab and opened shops in the Rawalpindi’s main markets on Tuesday. The district administration has warned that they will face action if they do so again today (Wednesday).
According to a notification issued by the Primary and Secondary Healthcare Department, the lockdown will be in effect from midnighton Tuesday until Aug 5.
Shops in Raja Bazaar, Moti Bazaar, Bara Market, Narankari Bazaar, City Saddar Road, Kashmiri Bazaar, China Market College Road, Bohar Bazaar, Urdu Bazaar, Sabzi Mandi, Purana Qila and Commercial Market were opened, while a partial lockdown was observed in the cantonment areas.
Because markets were open, traffic was blocked on Fawara Chowk and other busy downtown areas while the district administration and local police appeared to be spectators to the situation.
The administration began closing shops in the afternoon, when as administration teams moved from one market to another, shopkeepers would reopen their businesses.
Under written agreement, business activities can resume soon after Eid
In Saddar, traders’ leaders refused to close down their shops.
It was only after discussions with the administration, traders association and the Rawalpindi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (RCCI) that a written agreement was reached and shopkeepers agreed to close their businesses in the evening and promised not to open them for another eight days.
Traders association representatives Sharjeel Mir, Shahid Ghafoor Paracha, Sh Hafeez, Zafar Qadri, Suhail Altaf and RCCI President Saboor Malik signed an agreement with the district administration, led by Deputy Commissioner retired Capt Anwarul Haq, stating that shopkeepers would cooperate with the administration as long as it did not impose fines and relaxed the lockdown until Tuesday evening.
The agreement added that the traders would cooperate with the administration to implement a lockdown but will not take back the call to strike.
The district administration said the lockdown will be lifted soon after Eidul Azha, and the administration will not fine shopkeepers or arrest them. If police have confiscated shopkeepers’ CNICs, those will be returned, and tailors have been permitted to return fabric to their customers.
In exchange for not fining shopkeepers for their violations on Tuesday, the administration will enforce the lockdown strictly on Wednesday.
Punjab Traders Association President Sharjeel Mir told Dawn that traders had cooperated with the provincial government for the last four months by implementing standard operating procedures (SOP) to limit the spread of the coronavirus, but the government had tried to impose its immature decision on them.
He added that it was strange that the Punjab government had decided to impose a lockdown when there is no lockdown in Islamabad, the other three provinces or Azad Kashmir. However, he added that traders would obey government directives on the assurance that they can reopen soon after Eid.
Rawalpindi Cantonment Traders Association General Secretary Zafar Qadri said that traders were facing a financial crisis, and the lockdown would cause further losses.
“Salesmen and labourers will suffer a lot, as they will not be paid their salaries due to the losses,” he said.
When contacted, Deputy Commissioner Haq said the administration resolved the matter after a detailed discussion with the traders. He said markets will be closed from Wednesday until Aug 5, and the lockdown will be enforced strictly.
The traders community and local administrations came to a standoff in various parts of Attock district in the wake of the lockdown imposed in the province to limit the spread of the coronavirus ahead of Eidul Azha.
Charged shopkeepers in Hazro, Hassanabdal and Attock city came face to face with local administration officials who were visiting markets accompanied by police in order to close down their shops and enforce a total lockdown.
In defiance of the lockdown, traders opened shops selling clothing, shoes, cosmetics and other nonessential items, where people could be seen shopping for Eid without practicing social distancing and wearing masks.
Shopkeepers could also be seen without masks, and hand sanitising facilities were not available in shops.
Assistant commissioners in Hazro, Hassanabdal and Attock, as well as municipal officials and police, swung into action over the lockdown violations, visiting markets and directing traders to close down their shops. However, the traders continued to defy government orders.
Traders in the district’s large towns have rejected the lockdown, and in Hazro and Hassanabdal, charged shopkeepers held a protest against the government’s decision.
The traders demanded the government rescind the decision, saying they would not accept the closing down of shops, malls and markets no Eid because of the increase in business seen on special occasions.
In Hassanabdal, the assistant commissioner was not allowed out of his official vehicle by the protesting traders. In Attock city, an assistant commissioner’s directions to close shops went unheeded.
The president of the Hassanabdal chapter of the traders’ association, Chaudhry Jamshaid Akhter, said that the closure of businesses until Eid would cause huge losses.
He said traders are implementing SOPs designed to limit the spread of the coronavirus, and appealed to the government to allow business activities to resume until Eid. Shoppers could be seen gathering at shops selling clothing, shoes and jewellery.
Published in Dawn, July 29th, 2020