Representatives of the trading community had expressed deep satisfaction at the outcome of the discussion held with Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Friday. However, the Chief Minister has met their demands only half way. More shops, other than those selling essential commodities, have been allowed to function consecutively for three days - July 18, 19 and 20 - to cater to the demand in the days building up to Bakrid on July 21. July 18 is a Sunday. The traders had however wanted shops to be pen till at least Onam. Though traders had expected the Chief Minister to announce far more relaxations in his customary sunset media briefing, the Chief Minister sought to announce the limited relaxations through a press release.
The temporary relaxations will allow textile shops, footwear shops, electronic shops, fancy shops and jewelleries also to open during these three days. These shops can remain open till 8pm. The relaxation is only for local bodies in the A, B and C categories where the test positivity rate is below 15 per cent. Shops in D category local bodies with a TPR of over 15 per cent, designated as areas with critical spread, have not been granted any exemptions; over 20 per cent of the local bodies in Kerala (225 of 1034 local bodies) are in the D category.
Now that the government had allowed traders to open shops at least for the Bakrid season, the traders also have decided to withhold the disobedience protest they had planned earlier. In fact, traders sounded highly pleased after they met with the Chief Minister on Friday. "The Chief Minister said he would favourably consider all our demands," Kerala Vyapari Vyavasayi Ekopana Samithi president T Naziruddin told reporters after meeting the Chief Minister. "All our 14 district presidents are happy," he said.
Before the discussion, Naziruddin had said that traders would open shops irrespective of what happens during the discussion. However, after meeting the Chief Minister, he said there was no need for an agitation as the Chief Minister had found merit in almost all their demands.
"The Chief Minister himself would announce the decision today itself," Naziruddin said, in a tone that suggested that the Chief Minister would abide by the demands of the traders.
The traders' representatives said the Chief Minister had agreed to allow the shops to open till Eid al-Adha. "We told the Chief Minister that shops should be allowed to open right through to the Onam season," one of the leaders told reporters.
Besides the immediate issue of shop opening, the traders said the Chief Minister had promised solutions for a host of issues including fixed electricity charges, defects in the implementation of GST and the government contribution to the welfare fund of traders. "He even spoke of a separate department for the welfare of traders," Naziruddin said.
The Chief Minister's seemingly rude approach to the traders' protest also came up for discussion. "He himself raised the issue and said he had not issued any kind of threat as was widely said," one of the representatives who had met the Chief Minister said. "In fact, he commended us for the restraint we had shown in the last two years," he said.
On July 13, during a media briefing in New Delhi, the Chief Minister had hinted that force would be used to crush any lockdown violations by traders.
Before the discussion, the traders had adopted an aggressive stance. Naziruddin said traders had not taken the Chief Minister's words seriously. "Still, the language used cannot be approved of," he said and added: "No one needs to threaten traders. We have seen many such threats in our long existence. It should be remembered that governments had fallen in the wake of agitation by traders," Naziruddin said.
During the meeting, it looks like the Chief Minister had charmed the traders. “He looked very happy and was all ears,” one of the participants said.