Given low vaccination rates, experts are already warning of a third wave later this year.
Last Updated at June 19, 2021 14:43 IST
Asin Sharma lies idle on a cot near his restaurant by a highway linking India’s capital New Delhi with the northern state of Punjab.
Few motorists stop at the line of five open-fronted roadside eateries on this stretch of highway. Those who do venture cautiously inside ask only for tea and water. The restaurant’s tandoor, a traditional clay oven used for making flatbreads, sits cold and unused.
“We are in a very bad situation and the restaurant is on the verge of dying,” said the 35-year-old. “We have no work and so many expenses to bear. Our condition is pathetic.”
The eateries, or “dhabas” are ubiquitous in India. Tens of thousands line national highways but many are now struggling to survive as customers stay at home despite several state governments relaxing coronavirus curbs on movement.
Many dhabas are family-run and employ millions, including local people and migrant workers. The problems they now face are part of a wider malaise in the travel and leisure industry, and the Indian economy in general.
India on Friday reported 62,480 new daily cases, down significantly from a peak of more than 400,000 on May 9 during its second wave of COVID-19 infections. Given low vaccination rates, experts are already warning of a third wave later this year.
Economists fear the sector faces weakness into next year, even if the government can vaccinate the majority of India’s near 1.4 billion people. Only 6% are fully vaccinated now.
STRUGGLE TO SURVIVE
Last year, the government extended federal guarantees on bank loans for small businesses including hotels and restaurants, as well as a moratorium on some bank loans through to the end of March. Some restaurant owners have already had notices from banks to repay these loans.
Finance ministry officials last month said the government could consider more measures for restaurants later this year. A spokesman declined to comment further on the plans.
Restaurant owners interviewed said many could be forced to shut their businesses permanently in the absence of further government support. Others said they were likely to delay bank loans, defer payments and sell properties if the third wave does hit. Most have cut salaries and laid off staff.
Sonu Sharma, manager of Mannat Haveli Restaurant, says in normal times the restaurant is so busy they have a staff of 300, but now there are only about 50 to 60 people at work.
These unemployed migrant workers have been forced to fall back on low-paying farm work. The huge job losses in the restaurant sector reflect a broader rise in India’s unemployment, which almost doubled to 11.9% in May from 6.5% in March, according to CMIE, a Mumbai-based think tank.
On the highway between New Delhi and India’s financial hub Mumbai, Hans Restaurant, which used to thrive on catering for weddings and birthday parties, has tried to survive by selling takeaway food, but there are not enough orders, said manager Kailash Chand Meghwal.
“We never thought we would see such a day,” he said. “Almost 80% of our staff have gone back to their villages.”
(Reporting by Manoj Kumar and Sunil Kataria in Karnal; Editing by Alasdair Pal and Karishma Singh)
(Only the headline and picture of this report may have been reworked by the Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)
Business Standard has always strived hard to provide up-to-date information and commentary on developments that are of interest to you and have wider political and economic implications for the country and the world. Your encouragement and constant feedback on how to improve our offering have only made our resolve and commitment to these ideals stronger. Even during these difficult times arising out of Covid-19, we continue to remain committed to keeping you informed and updated with credible news, authoritative views and incisive commentary on topical issues of relevance.
We, however, have a request.
As we battle the economic impact of the pandemic, we need your support even more, so that we can continue to offer you more quality content. Our subscription model has seen an encouraging response from many of you, who have subscribed to our online content. More subscription to our online content can only help us achieve the goals of offering you even better and more relevant content. We believe in free, fair and credible journalism. Your support through more subscriptions can help us practise the journalism to which we are committed.
Support quality journalism and subscribe to Business Standard.