Hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, owners of around 3,000 budget hotels and guest houses in the national capital had to let go more than 75 per cent of their staff and are now staring at bankruptcy with unpaid bills running into lakhs, umbrella groups representing them have claimed.
So severe is the situation that the president of Delhi Hotel and Restaurant Owners Association, Sandeep Khandelwal, claims he himself was being unable to pay his house rent.
Even though the Centre had allowed hotels across the country to open their doors to customers from June 8, the Delhi government did not do so considering a large number of COVID-19 cases in that month.
But that was not to be as Delhi Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal the next day vetoed the decision, saying the situation continues to be "fragile" and the threat is still "far from over".
Khandelwal said over four lakh people depend on hotels, guest houses and restaurants for their livelihood directly or indirectly.
"The establishments have remained closed since March 15. Most of the employees have returned to their villages. A few remain to look after the premises. They, too, are not being paid their full salaries," he said.
Khandelwal, who runs Hotel Grand Imperial in Karol Bagh on a lease, claimed that he has not been able to pay its rent for the last four months.
"I pay Rs 7 lakh as rent for the property. Of the 20 employees working at the hotel before lockdown, only three remain. Around 50 families depend on the hotel directly or indirectly," he said.
The association's president said he hasn't been able to earn enough to pay his house rent and car loan EMI. "I represent the budget hotels and look at the situation I am in. Others are in a much worse condition."
Khandelwal claimed that hotel and guest house owners are being "forced" to pay hefty water and power bills, even though there has been "zero business" in the last four months. According to him, many hotel owners have taken loans from their friends and family members to stay afloat.
"We demand that the government give us some rebate on bills. Many establishments are on the verge of bankruptcy. If they cannot provide any relief, at least renew our fire and police licences and allow us to operate," he demanded.
Khandelwal said he has been receiving a lot of calls from his employees, asking when they can return to work. "What do I tell them? Tomorrow, I might have to find a job for myself. The fight for survival is turning worse each passing day."
The association has requested Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal and Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to give them "just one appointment" to discuss their problems.
Jagpreet Arora, the president of the Karol Bagh Guest House Welfare Association, said most of the establishments have reduced their staff by more than 75 per cent.
"It is becoming increasingly difficult to feed our families. How do we pay the staff? Bills are piling up and there is no relief from the government. We have reached the stage where the employers might die of hunger... one cannot even imagine what the employees are going through," he said.
Arora, who runs Emperor Palms in Karol Bagh, has reduced his staff strength from 30 to just five in the last four months. "If the situation continues, I won't be able to pay the salaries of these five persons too."
"We appeal to the L-G to please acknowledge the ground realities and allow us to operate. A lot of families are fighting for their survival," he said.
"If Maharashtra can allow hotels to operate despite having the maximum number of cases, why cannot Delhi which has made a rapid recovery?" Arora posed.
Delhi is a transit hub. A lot of people come here for business. Hotels in the city can recover to some extent in three months. A lot of employment can be regenerated, he said.
"We will follow all standard operating procedures. We are prepared," Arora said.
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