The Shopping Centres Association of India (SCAI) has urged the Maharashtra government to take concrete steps for urgent reopening of malls in the State.

In a letter to State Tourism Minister Aaditya Thackeray, SCAI said five million people involved in modern retail would suffer if the State delays the reopening of malls any further.

Maharashtra has over 75 malls with 50% in Mumbai, Thane, Kalyan, Navi Mumbai and Dombivli. Pune has over 20%, while the rest are in Amravati, Aurangabad, Kolhapur, Nasik and Nagpur.

The lockdown has also put work on over 30 malls, which are under construction, on hold. Retailers and owners of Shopping Centres said it was becoming difficult for them to meet day to day expenses, including employee salaries, due to zero revenue since closure of the establishments in March.

Cash reserves drying

Cash reserves are also drying up, and the first big impact could be seen in August 2020. SCAI in its letter said stocks worth crores of rupees are getting damaged and their value would be lost if not sold immediately.

“The industry has already seen losses exceeding ₹1 lakh crore. Maharashtra is a critical market for shopping centres and a delay in opening malls will prove to be a death knell”, said Amitabh Taneja, chairman, SCAI.

Citing examples of States where malls have been allowed to open, SCAI said it has developed and rolled out stringent standard operating procedures (SOPs) in over 500 shopping malls across the country, and have successfully implemented physical distancing and other necessary measures.

While malls have opened in most States since June 8, Maharashtra is yet to take a decision on easing the lockdown. Currently malls are operational in major Metros and Tier-1 cities including some with a large number of COVID-19 cases.

Cities which have opened malls include Delhi, Gurugram, Hyderabad, Chandigarh, Lucknow, Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Agartala, Bhopal, Siliguri, Raiganj, Indore and Cuttack.

State support reassuring

Manoj K. Agarwal, CEO, Viviana Mall, said, “It is reassuring to see the confidence posed by State government’s across the country in our SOPs and our ability to strictly adhere to social distancing guidelines and provide a safe shopping experience.” He added, “We have urged the Maharashtra government to give us the opportunity to at least start operating in a controlled manner and help the industry’s survival.”

Malls that have opened have been capping the number of visitors along the lines of SCAI and Health Ministry’s guidelines. SCAI in its letter to Mr. Thackeray also recommended guidelines that should be implemented once malls reopen.

These include strict crowd control by adopting a 75 sq.ft. per person formula within malls and retail stores, mandatory use of the Aarogya Setu app to enter malls, reduced staffing at 60-70% with single shift operations on all days.

Besides this, seating in food courts and restaurants must be reduced to 50%, number of cars in the parking lot must be reduces, contactless payments will be encouraged, oxygen cylinders will be made available and there shall be provision for isolation room and ambulance-on-call.

SCAI said these measures will ensure that shopping malls do not get overcrowded at any given time.

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