A substantial sum of money – estimated to be around Tk5,000 crore – that used to be injected into the economy will not be there this time
For the past several years, the increasing participation of the corporate sector in celebrations of Pahela Baishakh has transformed it into a national cultural festival.
Corporations have spent crores of taka to buy clothes and gifts as also sponsor concerts and market promotions.
This year's Pahela Baishakh is only days away, but for the first time, shops in Aziz Super Market, Bashundhara city shopping mall, and fashion outlets in upscale Gulshan and Banani areas will remain closed.
No corporate group is doing anything due to the shutdown the government has imposed to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Consequently, a substantial sum of money – estimated to be around Tk5,000 crore – that used to be injected into the economy will not be there this time.
The money used to give many people, especially small businesses both in urban and rural areas a big financial boost after massive spending in the two Eid celebrations.
But this Pahela Baishakh has emerged as a nightmare for at least 20 lakh people, including potters, rural and urban artisans of handicraft products, and sweet sellers or shop owners and their employees in the city's shopping malls.
"Apart from various formal sectors, informal sectors such as flowers, fruits, traditional food, cottage and handicrafts, and toys have an estimated turnover of around Tk1,500 crore during the Pahela Baishakh celebrations," said Dr Mahbubur Rahman, professor at the Dhaka School of Economics under the University of Dhaka.
Many people in micro and small businesses will be hit hard this year, he said.
Those in the formal sectors, especially fashion entrepreneurs who have invested huge sums of money for buying fabrics to design special fashion products for Boishakh sales, are in great despair.
Shahin Ahmed, president of Fashion Entrepreneurs Association of Bangladesh and owner of Anjan's Fashion House, told The Business Standard businesses in the formal sectors had been prepared to sell products worth Tk2,000 crore during this Pahela Baishakh.
"But all the products are now piled up. Many entrepreneurs are caught in loan traps. They are under huge pressure to pay suppliers and workers," he said.
The Business Standard visited some areas in Narsingdi and Narayanganj, where hundreds of small businesses and boutique houses make clothes with special colours and designs for Pahela Baishakh.
This time, those businesses and wholesale shops are closed. Nobody was there except a guard. In better times, the area used to be crowded with buyers from all over the country.
Dozens of small-scale backward linkage industries in Narsingdi, Narayanganj, Sirajganj, Tangail and Cumilla have also been affected as they are not getting their money back.
Some five lakh people directly and indirectly work in this sector, with 80 percent of them being women, according to industry insiders.
Baburhaat in Narsingdi, a hub for traditional women clothing, had an estimated turnover of Tk300 crore in the last Pahela Baishakh, according to Abdul Bakir, president of Shekherchar Merchant Association, the biggest local trade body in the area.
There are 2,000 entrepreneurs in the area, collectively employing more than 30,000 workers.
Mohammad Manik Chan, a boutique house owner in Araihazar in Narayanganj, manufactured special apparels for Pahela Baishakh and had a target of selling products worth Tk8-10 lakh.
Now he is under pressure to repay bank loans of Tk4 lakh. He managed to sell only Tk2 lakh worth of products before the shutdown.
Narayanganj has 8,000-10,000 small entrepreneurs like him who employ around 50,000 workers.
Azharul Haque Azhar, chairman of the fashion chain ShadaKalo, said his company is suffering a loss of Tk500 crore due to the cancellation of the big event and a potential slowdown at the upcoming Eid.
He estimates that 10-15 lakh people are engaged beyond their direct backward linkage enterprises. They weave local fabrics alongside another five lakh people engaged in making jewellery and diversified handicrafts.
"At least 20 lakh people's livelihood is affected in this Pahela Baishakh," said Azharul.
Tanvir Hossain, a senior official at Aarong, said Pahela Baishakh accounts for over Tk100 crore in sales for the enterprise.
He said the figure was going to be near zero this year.
Aarong, famous for making handicrafts and apparels that reflect the rich heritage of the country, has 65,000 listed artisans.
Of them, around 30,000 are working under 600 SME enterprises who are suppliers of Aarong. The remaining 35,000 are working under the development programmes of Ayesha Abed Foundation, a non-profit Brac entity.
However, by prioritising workers' life and economic conditions, Aarong is responding generously.
"There will be no pay cut for Aarong employees. In some cases, we have made advance payments to artisans. Concessional loans to the suppliers are in the pipeline," Tanvir said.
Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation used to arrange 76 fairs across the country on the occasion of Pahela Baishakh for 10 days.
Each fair saw over Tk1 crore in sales of products alongside entertainment services that have economic value.
Md Mostaque Hasan, chairman of the state-owned corporation, said, "We have seen small entrepreneurs making over Tk10 lakh in profit in those fairs. This year, they are stuck with stocks of traditional fabrics, apparel boutiques, handicrafts and even local furniture."
"Thousands of sideline activities are also going to be missed in the fairs as we cancelled them for a good reason this year," added Hasan.
He estimates a few lakh small and cottage entrepreneurs are going to suffer losses that will not be less than Tk1,000 crore.
Md Shafiqul Islam, managing director of SME Foundation, said at least 25 lakh people are engaged in small and cottage industries and they rely most on Pahela Baishakh.
"Most of them took loans for procurement and production and now are stuck in a difficult situation. They need help to overcome this extremely bad condition," he added.