Shopping centres will need to reinvest after the lockdown is lifted to ensure safety norms are adhered to, said Pushpa Bector, executive director of DLF Shopping Malls, and member Shopping Centres Association of India. She spoke to Mint about how the financial challenges for one of the biggest employers has increased amid the nationwide lockdown and social distancing norms.
Q 1. What has been the impact of covid-19 on the shopping centre industry
The industry has supported the government’s decision 100% on the lockdown. When the mandate came we shut everything within an hour. That said, you must understand that we are a capital intensive sector with very high costs. The fixed costs remain even during lockdown. Secondly, we are a labour intensive industry, we support jobs and livelihoods of over 12 million people. As an industry, our request to the government is a moratorium for at least 6-9 months. You have to also bear in mind that we will need to reinvest post lockdown so that people feel safe. There will be new investments required by all players in the industry.
Q 2. Will you protect jobs in the industry considering the huge impact on your costs?
As an industry, we should be taking a very humane approach to this unprecedented situation all of us are in. We are a people intensive sector and probably the fifth largest job creators in the world and should take steps that protect the interests of the people associated with the industry. Everyone has been extremely diligent to ensure that all jobs are protected. Everyone has been overextending themselves. Across the industry, developers have paid salaries for March. Even in lockdown, our fixed expenses are as high as 60-65% (of total costs) and have continued.
Q3. How are you preparing for reopening after the lockdown is lifted?
We have already prepared a SOP document in line the international best practices. We are looking at norms in countries such as Singapore, among others. Social distancing would be required. We understand the new normal would be very different from what was earlier. Shopping centres have better advantage in creating those norms as they are controlled environments. We would like to collaborate with the government. We do understand that investment will be required. How it is financed will vary from developer to developer. I don't think there will be any compromise.
Q4. For the phased reopening of industries, shopping centres and malls appear to be among the last in the order. What do you have to say to that?
There are many essentials in shopping centres such as pharmacies, hyper markets, supermarkets. Maternity & essential apparels, books, electronics, mobile stores & accessories etc are essential services. I believe if the right representations are made then government will look at the right manner for reopening. We will be making those representations at the right time and hope that a graded approach is taken while considering shopping centres as part of the first list. Initially we can look at many essentials services that can be made available to public. We would like to provide services in a phased manner. It must be understood that shopping centres can create benchmarks and provide direction for others to follow given the controlled manner in which we operate and are able to build processes that ensure stringent guidelines and safety measures are followed.