Katra businessmen among worst hit due to COVID-19

Closed shops on track to Mata Vaishno Devi shrine. -Excelsior/Ramesh Mengi
Closed shops on track to Mata Vaishno Devi shrine. -Excelsior/Ramesh Mengi

Excelsior Correspondent
REASI, May 29: With the closure of pilgrimage to world famous Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine from last more than two months, the hospitality industry, dry fruit sellers, restaurants , dhabas, tour travels etc in Katra are among the worst hit due to Covid19 pandemic.
President of Hotel and Restaurant Association, Katra, Rakesh Wazir said that the business has been affected badly in Katra and other areas. “We expect worse if the Government doesn’t come up with plans to ease the business class. In the times when we have been forced to stop all business operations paying the bills, taxes, salaries will become a challenge. We are struggling for our survival,” he added.
According to Mr Wazir, income of near about 5 lakh people depends directly or indirectly on the Yatra. These people include dry fruit sellers, Dhabas, shawl industry , hotels , guest house owners etc and more than 90 percent of business in Katra is depend on pilgrimage. “Due to the stoppage of pilgrimage, we are losing around Rs 12 to 13 crores per day and most sufferers are hotel industry of Katra which lost around Rs 4 crore per day due to the Covid 19 pandemic and lockdown,” he explained.
Fearing that if no relief is provided, thousands of workers will lose their jobs, Mr Wazir demanded a financial package including relaxation in electricity bills, GST returns , taxes etc as the industry had taken a setback during the global coronavirus.
Talking to the Excelsior, Rakesh Heera , president of the Dry Fruit Association Katra and Councillor of Ward number 5, Katra, said, “every shopkeeper here has at least 4 to 5 workers and paying their salaries has become a liability. We have not earned a single penny since the lockdown was announced and it is not possible for us to pay now. In addition to this we all have loans to pay back with GST deadlines etc. It become difficult for us to sustain, unless the Government exempts us from paying our EMI and interest along with some relaxation from taxes for a while.”
He further said that some dry fruit shops are now converting into Karyana shops as they find it difficult to sustain with the same business. There are near about 200 dry fruit shops at Katra.
A tour travel owner said that the lockdown has affected bookings and most of them have been already cancelled. “Our survival is based mainly on the income we generate during the Yatra. Since maximum bookings have been cancelled, there is no way out for revival of business unless the Government makes substantial relaxation from taxes and other bills for a period of one year or more,” he added.
Former MLA Reasi and Ex minister, Ajay Nanda appealed Lt Governor G C Murmu to announce a financial package for the affected businessmen and give them relaxation in paying electricity bills, GST and other taxes. He also appealed the Shrine Board to announce an immediate relief in order to ensure the survival of the auto drivers, Ponywalas , pithuwalas etc.