Strikes take the sheen off R750-cr Onam business

Written by M Sarita Varma | Thiruvananthapuram | Updated: Aug 24 2012, 09:37am hrs
Its not the usual suspect of rain, but a continuous string of strikes and protests, often escalating to trade-shutdown that is dampening the businessmens high Onam festoons this year.

FMCG brands such as Godrej, Samsung and Sony India were pinning their hopes on doing about R750 crore business in August-September in Kerala, not to count the huge textile, gold and liquor sales in the season.

Its a market that habitually replaces white goods. If the shops are forced to close and transport is affected on the most crucial week, festival sales would be dented, says T Naziruddeen, who heads a traders guild in Kerala. When there is a public holiday on account of Eid-ul-Fitr on a Saturday, close to Onam, we rejoice that it is a boon to the merchants, but then, hopes are immediately dashed by a series of forced shutdowns, he adds.

There is a strike called by Left and BJP-supported state government employees to protest the contributory pension scheme for all new employees of Kerala government from next fiscal. Not to be beaten, CPI(M) has also called for a protest in all 14 districts of Kerala against the price rise of essential commodities.

A two-day nationwide strike on Wednesday and Thursday against the Union governments decision to amend banking laws through legislation is also underway. Since normal banking operations have been affected, sales season has thinned down to Friday and Saturday (August 24 and 25).

Kerala, which tops the countrys monthly per capita household spending charts in NSSO samplings, is estimated to do 35-40% of its spending in the Onam season. This is a brief spell when cash-rich Gulf NRIs visit their kin and indulge in a buying spree in their home state.

Ramesh C, assistant vice-president (sales), Godrej Appliances, said sales of consumer goods including the latest range of TVs, audio systems and cameras alone were expected to top sales of over R500 crore. But the strikes could play spoilsport.

However, there is a possible bonanza in the tail-end of the Onam season, according to CL Radhakrishnan, who runs a textile store. Keralas harvest festival Onam begins on August 27. Including the birthday of the social reformer Sree Narayana Guru, the state will go through a series of public holidays in the next four days.

One positive factor for the traders is that the 5.6-lakh state government employees and 10-lakh-odd school teachers have been paid salary for the next month in advance, because of the festival season. Offices, schools and colleges would be back to routine work only from September 3, which could spell a leg of post-Onam spending.

If only the crucial pre-Onam era was not lost in the chain of protests, our smiles would have been brighter, says S Chandran, who owns a couple of movie houses.

The only sale that is unlikely to feel this punch is the liqour counter. In 2011, during the single Thiruvonam day, Kerala grossed R235 crore. Going by the trend, this should grow by 25% in the sales on August 29, regardless of hartal, protest or strike.