In Karnataka, Shopping Centre Body Argues Why Malls Should Reopen

Authorities are concerned about social distancing norms - and while all standalone shops in Karnataka have been allowed to open - malls and shopping complexes stay firmly shut.

In Karnataka, Shopping Centre Body Argues Why Malls Should Reopen

The representatives of the association insist they can keep customers and staff safe. (Representational)

Bengaluru:

Each time there is a relaxation of the lockdown imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic, shopping malls stay firmly off the list of what can open. Authorities are concerned about social distancing norms - and while all standalone shops in Karnataka have been allowed to open - malls and shopping complexes stay firmly shut.

This has of course hugely affected those in the mall business. And they are trying to persuade Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa to open the malls with precautions in place.

Raghunandan of Bharatiya City Developers, in Bengaluru told NDTV, "We, on behalf of the Shopping Centre Association of India represented to him the various issues being faced by the closure of the shopping centres and malls in Karnataka and across the country and we have prevailed on him to favourably consider our request for opening in a very controlled manner - in a very scientific, sanitised, controlled manner is what we plan. And he heard us out, we presented a memorandum to him and he said he would take it up with the Prime Minister."

The BJP government in Karnataka has made it clear many times that they would follow the directions of the Central government when it came to opening up post lockdown, but the members of the Shopping Centres Association of India are hoping for a decision by the end of the month.

The representatives of the association insist they can keep customers and staff safe.

Shashikumar of the Brigade Group, said, "In terms of managing social distancing, I think malls are the better option even for the government and the authorities in terms of achieving the control on the spread of the virus. There are many reasons. One, in malls it is very easy for us to screen the entry at entry level itself. Number two - even at the entrance of the malls or anywhere inside the mall, you know it is very easy to achieve the social distancing. They are in a mall of 1 million square feet, there are easily about 300 stores. Each store is being guided by a very stringent SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) where individual retailer has their own Standard Operating Procedure which gets overlapped with the mall's procedure... At the same time - contactless payment and the merchandise being fumigated."

Economically, the mall closure has had a huge impact.

Mr Shashikumar said, "In our internal calculation with all the malls, we have estimated that anywhere between 800 to 1000 crores is the total consumption across Bangalore city alone as all malls put together. Big malls, small malls - on an average 100 crores is the average per month. So last two months we have easily lost a lot of money."

Gajendra Singh, Senior Centre Director of Phoenix Malls, South, pointed out other challenges.

He said, "We have zero rent coming in since the lockdown. Since there is no rent coming, so now the stress is on how to repay these loans. While the RBI has given us three months moratorium and they have been kind enough to further extend three months more but after three months again, the stress is going to be there because there is no revenue. Since there is no revenue the retailers are also stressing."

"As far as the government's concern is there on the hygiene and safety aspect of the malls, we have not only made detailed SOPs which covers customers but it also covers our staff so right from the beginning you will see there will be multiple signage - each mall will have close to 150-200 signage which will drive the customer automatically and remind at every point to sanitise hands, wash hands, social distancing, follow the queue markers," he added.

The mall owners say opening malls would have a positive impact on the job situation and migration.

Mr Singh said, "Once the malls open, once the industry opens up, we will be opening not at 100 per cent capacity. The occupancy will be limited and therefore staff will also be limited. So we will be able to manage it with the local staff which is there. Since the industry is entirely shut, millions of people are jobless right now. Once the business starts back I'm sure all the migrants who have gone back - everybody will become more positive and they will start coming back also to the jobs."

For now though, malls remain shut. And the state waits for the Centre to announce any possible relation of restrictions on the way much of urban India shops.