Overcrowded streets of Begum Bazar in Hyderabad wear an unusually deserted look. The wholesale retailers, who have stocked up their shops with colours and other toys for the Holi festival, eagerly wait for customers to arrive.

The wholesale retailers in Begum Bazar say that there has been a decline in their business owing to the outbreak of the deadly novel coronavirus disease. Begum Bazar is the biggest commercial market in Hyderabad which is a go-to location to purchase all products at a cheaper rate. In Hyderabad, as well as across the state, so far, one person has been tested positive for the disease and has been kept in isolation.

Amid the scare of coronavirus, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and other leaders have announced that they will not be participating in Holi Milan functions in order to avoid mass gatherings, as advised by health experts to curtail the spread of the disease. Even the Telangana High Court has ordered the state government to issue advisories against mass gatherings for Holi. Adding to these advisories, misinformation about the disease shared on WhatsApp has effectively crushed the business of the retailers.

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Unlike other cities in south India, Hyderabad has a vibrant culture of grand celebrations to mark Holi. This year, the festival falls on March 9. However, due to the outbreak of the disease, the retailers could barely make any sale.

“Public aarey-ich nahi (The crowd is not coming at all),” says Jitender Singh.

To give an idea of how busy they would have been around this time, he quips to this reporter, “I wouldn’t have been talking to you if the business was brisk.”

Singh and his partner, Raj Kumar have invested Rs 2 lakh in buying colours, toy guns and other Holi products. However, they are uncertain of recovering their investment.

Bemoaning the dull business, Singh says, “By now we would have sold at least 50% of the products, but this time around, the sales have been around 25%.” Raj Kumar joins in and says that there is very little hope of selling all their products before Holi.

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“It is going to be very tough. There is panic, and people are taking precautions to avoid crowds, so we are not hopeful of selling all our stock. We’ll have to store our products in godowns for the next year,” he says. Fortunately, Singh and Raj Kumar have their own godown.

In the market, the retailers are selling colours for Rs 80 per kg and less, depending on the quantity of the order. Though the retailers claim that the gulaal (colours) is from India itself but most of the customers don’t have faith in the retailers.

“There has been no import of products from China. We paid double the price and got products from Mumbai but still, people are not coming to purchase them,” Raj Kumar says.

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Echoing the same, Bhagwan Das from Amrut Enterprises, says, “So far we have made only 10% of sales.” This is just one-third of the business, which Das does usually. Das is one of the biggest wholesale dealers in Begum Bazar. Though the crowd is less, the dealers are not lowering the prices in desperation to sell them, as they have spent double the money to purchase them.

Unlike these big dealers, Krishna Singh doesn’t have a godown of his own to store the products for next year. Singh bought the products worth Rs 1 lakh and has made less than 25% of the sales. He has pinned his hopes of selling all the products before March 9 because the government has assured that there are no cases of coronavirus in the state.

“If the business doesn’t pick up, I will have to sell the products to other dealers or buy space in a godown,” he says. #KhabarLive