The decision has been taken following the death of hundreds of animals during lockdown in early July
The authorities have finally allowed the country’s largest pet market in Kataban to remain open for four hours every day during the second phase of the strict lockdown that began on July 23.
The shopkeepers can keep shutters partially open from 9am to 11am and again from 4pm to 6pm to clean shops, change the water and serve food to the animals and birds caged inside.
The authorities came up with the latest decision following reports of hundreds of animals dying in their cages due to lack of food and water. The reports drew the attention of animal welfare activists and the media.
Earlier, during the 14-day strict lockdown in early July, around 400 birds as well as dozens of dogs, cats, rabbits, rats and guinea pigs died, which resulted in huge financial losses for the shop owners.
Shimul Mitra, manager of Bird's Zoo, said: "A lot of animals died in the last lockdown as we couldn't open the shops at the time. If we opened them, the police will fine us. But when news of the animals dying broke out, they permitted us to open the shop for only two hours."
He said four expensive birds and a few other animals died in his shop during that time, which was a great loss for their business.
"As our birds died during the last lockdown, we have transferred 70% of the remaining birds to our farm in Savar this time to ensure a better environment. Being confined in a closed shop for 20 hours is not easy for them," he noted.
A caretaker of Athoi Enterprise said that in the last lockdown, Tk1 lakh worth of fish died in its shop.
"The shop owner has put aside his hopes for any income since for the time being saving the fishes is the biggest challenge," he said.
Many caretakers said that the owners had to pay full salaries to their staff every month, as the latter had to take care of these animals. They believe that their condition is much better than that of the owners.
"The owners have no other options but to keep us for taking care of the animals. However, I feel worried when I see that there are no customers and the shop remains closed day after day," Gomez, caretaker of a shop, said.
Shop owners demand compensation
Atiar Rahman Ripon, president of Dhaka University Market Owners Association, said: "This time we wanted at least six hours to take care of these animals. They only gave us four hours, which is not enough for a pet shop."
“Most other businesses do not lose their investments over time, but our capital will decrease due to the long closure of shops as animals will die gradually," he added.
In 2020, the government announced a package of bank loans where shop owners could get a maximum of Tk1 lakh as a loan at 4% interest from Sonali Bank Limited, Atiar said.
"However, none of us applied as we couldn't do much with that amount of money. We are all middle-class businessmen and we didn't want to be bound in a debt trap," he explained.
“The rule for getting only a Tk1 lakh loan is the same compared to getting a Tk1 crore loan where the bank wants various documents. Many of us don't have those," said Bazlur Rahman, secretary of Dhaka University Market Owners Association.
"Covid will go away someday but no one will give compensation to us. Now the government is giving loans, not compensation. If the government gave us Tk5 lakh with 2% interest, that would be useful," he also said.
Every employee of the shops gets Tk15,000-30,000 as salary. In each shop, there are at least 3 employees, which means the owners have to spend around Tk1 lakh only for salary purposes. Then, 50% of shopkeepers do not own their shops: and the rent of each of those shops is at least Tk35,000, the committee members stated.
Speaking to Dhaka Tribune, Rubaiya Ahmad, chairman of Obhoyaronno-Bangladesh Animal Welfare Foundation, said: "First of all, there should not be such a place like Katabon. To keep animals in a cage is torture and to keep them in a tiny closed shop is double torture for them."
She said: "Initially it may seem that four hours is enough time for them but it's not. More animals will die soon if the shops are not open for a longer period."