‘No money to go back’: Kashmiri traders at suspended Hyderabad fair stare at mounting loses

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Irshad Bhat has been a regular at Numaish, one of Hyderabad’s most-awaited and longest running annual trade exhibitions. The dry fruits trader spent a few lakh rupees in transportation and other charges to bring in his produce, only for the exhibition to be suspended a day after inauguration, owing to Covid restrictions on mass gatherings. On Tuesday, Telangana reported 1052 new infections as compared to 482 and 274 on Monday and Sunday, respectively.

Since the trade fair was cancelled in 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, traders and artisans arrived from faraway places with a lot of hope this year, when the Exhibition Society decided to go ahead with the 45-day long fair at Nampally grounds. But now their hopes hang in the balance after the government banned large public gatherings till January 10 as Covid-19 cases fuelled largely by the Omicron variants continue to surge.

Since the trade fair was cancelled in 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, traders and artisans arrived from faraway places with a lot of hope this year. (Express Photo/Rahul V Pisharody)

“I have material worth about Rs 15 lakh that I have brought here only with a hope to sell them. I have already spent a few lakhs on transportation, taxes, stall rent, carpenter, electricity charges, wages, food, and accommodation here. And there is no way I can take the material back home,” said Bhat of Nishad Dry Fruits from Srinagar. The 40-year-old, along with his four staff and four family members, have been coming to Numaish for the last 30 years.

Salman Ali, another dry fruits trader from Kashmir, questioned how businesses across the city are allowed to function. “We don’t know what is going to happen to us. We are just sitting here and waiting for the government to take note of our plight. We don’t know why Numaish has been suspended when all businesses continue as usual across the city,” he said. Ali’s Kashmir Willow Dry Fruits has been participating in Numaish for the last 58 years.

While inaugurating the fair on January 1, Governor Tamilisai Sounderarajan had stressed that Numaish attracts lakhs of visitors from different parts of the country and that one would find products from Kashmir to Kanyakumari at one place. “The order suspending gatherings was issued the same day the Governor inaugurated the exhibition. We are disappointed and our families are worried. We have debts to repay and no money to carry on with our lives if we sit idle here,” Ali lamented.

The trade fair was suspended in view of Covid protocols. (Express Photo/Rahul V Pisharody)

Shabeer Ahmed of Kashmir Genuine Arts said more than 220 traders and artisans from Kashmir have set up stalls already and their lives are at stake.

“Closed spaces such as theatres and malls are open but why can’t the exhibition with such vast open spaces be open? We request the government to reopen the exhibition with stringent restrictions and enforcement of Covid protocols,” said Ahmed.

Md Jawed of Irsha Kashmir Art said some of them don’t even have the money to go back if the exhibition doesn’t run.

“We have taken loans and spent from our savings to make advance payments. Now, we don’t even have money to go back if the exhibition does not happen,” he said.

The trade fair was suspended in view of Covid protocols. (Express Photo/Rahul V Pisharody)

When contacted, Aditya Margam, the Honorary Secretary of the 81st All India Industrial Exhibition Society, said the society will present a strong case to the government to recommence the exhibition in the interest of the traders as well as the society. According to him, the society has already paid Rs 1.74 crore to various government departments and another Rs 80 lakh as advance payments to different contractors in anticipation of an interruption-free event.

As per the society’s data, all the 1600 stalls have been allotted whereas only 800 have been taken possession of to date and only 200 of them had started operations. “We want Numaish to happen. We can restrict hours of operation but cannot limit the crowd. So we expect some level of maturity among people to exercise social and behavioural discipline,” said the official, adding that only 6 acres of the total 20 acres is occupied by stalls and the rest is open spaces.

The Exhibition Society also runs as many as 18 charitable educational institutions including polytechnic colleges across Telangana, all exclusively for girls. Unable to hold Numaish last year, the organizers of the exhibition maintain that they have already run out of reserve funds and another year of disruption will sound the death knell for their institutions. “What is fair will have to be done. Refund for traders is a standing option available. It does not require the excuse of a pandemic. But we appreciate the resolve of traders to hang in there as we expect some good news soon,” added Margam.