The government decision to throw open the state borders amid a steep surge in Covid cases has evoked a mixed response from the industry and the public.
Himachal has witnessed over 10,000 positive cases and the fatalities from the virus has touched 89. The decision to open borders has been taken by the state government under pressure from the Central Government.
Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur defended the move, stating that the decision was in line with the Centre’s move of opening the borders. He said the economy had to get back on track and jobs had to be created.
Chaos on Parwanoo barriers
The opening of the borders created a chaos on the inter-state barriers at Parwanoo on Wednesday morning as several people wanted to enter the state. Since the orders were notified later, they had to return as they did not have the mandatory e-pass required to enter the state. The entry of vehicles was, however, streamlined by the afternoon.
“The decision to open the borders is ill-timed as the surge in Covid cases has started in Himachal and the decision has made the local population vulnerable to infection,” said Kalpana Thakur, a housewife.
She said the registration system had checked the entry into the state, but now the past gains too would be lost. Infact, residents of Mandi, Kangra and Sirmaur had been demanding lockdown and the social media was abuzz with such speculation.
However, Sanjay Sood, president of the Shimla Hotel Association, said: “We welcome the decision to lift all restrictions, including the opening of bars, and all shops should be allowed to open.” He said the revival of the tourism industry may not happen as early as is being expected as we need to tread cautiously in view of the rising cases.
“We welcome the decision to open the borders but the tourism industry is not in good health and we must be given soft loans to get it back on track,” said Mohinder Seth, president, Tourism Industry Stakeholder Association.
Some investors welcomed the move while others were worried at the spiralling Covid cases and lack of preparedness by the government.
Rakesh Bansal, senior vice-president, Parwanoo Industries Association, said, “It is a welcome move as it will facilitate smooth operations of the industry which has been incurring losses owing to the restrictions. Thrust should be on the prevention and taking precautions and avoiding crowding of people. There is no point curtailing economic activities as one has to live with this pandemic.”
With the industrial clusters like the Baddi-Barotiwala-Nalagarh zone, Parwanoo, Kala Amb and Paonta Sahib registering the maximum Covid cases, a word of caution has been sounded by investors.
Surinder Jain, president, HP Corrugation Box Manufacturers Association, said, “The step will ease the industry as several maintenance-related activities had been put on hold due to restriction on the entry of people, but it would also pose a potential threat as the number of cases could rise.”
“At a time when the Health Minister has admitted that they are entering the community spread stage, the decision would not auger well for the state as well as the locals, residing in the industrial clusters,” said Jain.
Satish Goyal, president, Himachal Chambers of Commerce and Industry, said it would address the labour shortage in the industry.