Trade body declares closure of shops wrong way to control smog, pollution

ISLAMABAD: The official trade body of the retail sector in the country has opposed the closure of markets and shops in view of controlling the rising smog, as the government is trying to control mitigate air pollution by reducing commercial activity.

Addressing a ceremony on Thursday Chairman CAP Tariq Mehboob observed that heavy transport, burning of waste and crop residue and non-compliant factories contribute to smog the most, not the retail sector.

“No other country or region is shutting down markets to control air pollution. As is the case in China and our neighboring countries, the focus must be on controlling movement of large vehicles which use low quality fuel and emit black smoke; cracking down on burning of waste and stopping factories that are polluting by burning wood, tyres, etc. due to the absence of natural gas,” he pointed out.

Speaking to media, Tariq Mehboob said, “Since the past one year, the retail timings are already restricted to 10 PM as per the orders of the Court. For the past few weeks, additional restrictions have been applied including late opening and full day closures which are resulting in huge losses to retail businesses and allied sectors, employment and tax generation.”

Since the Covid-19 pandemic, shutting down retail has become the norm whenever any crisis emerges and it only has a superficial impact on the problem. Retailers have experienced over 30 prolonged bouts of restrictions on operating timings and days over the past four years, with compliant retailers being the worst affected every time.

Less prominent markets seldom follow any restrictions imposed by government due to limited enforcement capacity, as per CAP.

“Recently, ad-hoc changes to notifications have resulted in confusion and abrupt disruptions for our businesses and employees. Moreover, restaurants and other service sectors have been allowed to remain open while shops must close, so movement of small vehicles still continues during closed period.

We cannot support the closure of any commercial activity because it does not addressing the root causes of smog. Shutting down only one sector repeatedly will not create the desired results in smog reduction or electricity saving,” stated Asad Shafi, Vice Chairman CAP.

On this issue, Tariq Mehboob explained that, “implementation of full retail shutdown in 6 major divisions of Punjab on last Sunday has resulted in an extraordinary loss of Rs. 10 billion for retail businesses, the domestic supply chain and tax revenues.

This is in addition to losses already incurred over the past few weeks during related restrictions. November and December is the peak season for retail and businesses have allocated their investment several months in advance. While almost everything else remains open, the organized retail sector has continuously become the victim to abrupt decisions and knee-jerk reactions from the authorities. Our industry is structured to run 7 days a week and when we are restricted in timings or off-days, we take a hit as most of our costs continue for the closed period. Moreover, our suppliers and vendors also suffer because demand of their products and services are affected, leading to a domino effect. Such counter-productive decisions are creating an unnecessary drag on revitalizing the economy and boosting employment.”

The government should take us into confidence at every stage and implemented balanced solutions that do not hurt the economy. While we wholeheartedly abide by the decision of the Punjab Government, we wish to propose an alternative approach that may effectively contribute to smog reduction without adversely affecting domestic commerce.”

“For example, the government is closing retail on weekends which are the highest sale days and hypothetically only reducing smog for 10-12 hours of retail timing for two days.

If retail closure is seen as a necessary measure, our suggestion is to consider adjusting the daily retail operating hours to commence at 1 or 2 pm, allowing for a daily saving of 4-5 hours in the morning which will be more sustainable. This modification aims to strike a balance between mitigating smog impact and continuing economic activities, and, consequently, employment and taxation revenues.

Furthermore, brands have millions of followers on their social media and government can collaborate with them to educate and communicate to general public for such initiatives on how to reduce air pollution and avoid its harmful effects.

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