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Hospitality industry in State hit by lockdown

By R Dutta Choudhury

GUWAHATI, April 18 - The hospitality industry in Assam is facing severe hardship due to the lockdown over COVID-19 pandemic and the problem has compounded because of the fact that the Assam Power Distribution Company Limited (APDCL) is sending provisional bills to the hotels and restaurants on the basis of the bills generated in the previous months when the occupancy rate was much higher.

Talking to The Assam Tribune, Hotel & Restaurant Association of Assam (HRAA) president Anupam Bora said the government would have to extend a helping hand to save the industry at this hour of crisis. He said the association has extended full support to the government to fight the crisis, but at the same time, he said that it has become difficult for the industry to survive.

Bora revealed that the tourist season in Assam starts from the middle of October and continues up to the middle of April. But this time, due to the movement against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, the occupancy rate in the hotels came down drastically during December last year. In fact, majority of the hotels were running at around 10 per cent occupancy during that period and though the situation started improving in January and February, the lockdown came at a time when the hotel industry was starting to get over the lean period. At present, the occupancy in the hotels is zero.

Bora said a good number of people from the neighbouring states visit the State for Christmas shopping, but this year, not many people came due to the prevailing situation. Under the circumstances, the association requested the government to come out with a bailout package.

Bora said amid the crisis where the occupancy is nil, the APDCL has sent electricity bills like the previous months. �Every month consumers have to pay a fixed charge as per contracted load. But now since the hotels are closed and the load consumed is very nominal, hotels should be charged to pay on actual load consumed only. But the APDCL is raising provisional bills of absurd amounts, without taking meter readings, thus causing further hardship to entrepreneurs,� he added.

He said the government should issue directives to the APDCL to stop issuing provisional bills without meter reading and waive the fixed charges. The Gujarat Chief Minister has already extended the last date for payment of electricity bills up to May 15 and decided that all industries would be charged only against the actual power consumption. Similar steps should be taken by the Assam government, he said.

Bora said the validity of licences should be extended to March 31 next year. He said it would be impossible for most of the hotels to pay salaries to workers. They should be brought under government�s support package, he said, adding, as per an estimate, around two lakh families of the State are depending on the hospitality industry and the government should keep that in mind while formulating its policies. As most hotels have loans, during this hour of crisis it would be impossible for the owners to repay the loans and banks should at least waive the interests for three months, he said.

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