Abdul Qayyum Afridi

PESHAWAR: Following a sharp decline in corona infection rate and number of deaths, the Pakistani government announced reopening of wedding halls in September after a six-month closure, issuing strict precautionary SOPs for the halls’ management and the guests.

The reopening of the wedding halls is, though, a source of excitement for the owners as well as the public, however, the strict mandatory SOPs are bothering everyone.

According to the notification issued by the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) in October announcing the SOPs for the marriage halls, wedding receptions will not host more than 300 guests at indoor events and 500 at outdoor events. Moreover, the functions will only last two hours, and will not continue till midnight.

The government had directed the local authorities to take stern actions on the flouting of SOPs. The NCOC stated that wedding halls would be sealed and a heavy fine would also be imposed on the management if found violating the Covid19 SOPs.

People have been complaining that after the reopening of the halls, the owners have raised the booking rates. They also complain of not obtaining the booking on the date of their choice.

Saleem Khan, whose marriage was scheduled in February but had to be postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, is annoyed as he has not reserved a hall for his wedding reception.

The 24-year old Saleem, a resident of Gulberg locality in Peshawar, says that the halls which earlier could be reserved in Rs35,000, are now being offered at inflated rates of 50,000 rupees. He says even the smallest halls are not available at these rates.

The restriction by the government on limiting the number of guests has also irked Saleem. He says he has invited about 700 guests but the hall owners are not allowing more than 300 guests. “I had booked a hall for the walima reception but then cancelled it. All the preparations I had done were wasted,” he adds.

On the other hand, halls’ owners rebuff the allegations of increasing the booking rates. Nisar Khan, who owns a marriage hall in the same locality where Saleem resides, says he has been charging the old rates from the customers.

“We have not increased the rates. In fact, the SOPs are annoying the public as they insist on bringing a large number of guests whereas we cannot allow more than 300 as per the government instructions,” Nisar Khan explains. He adds that the hall owners charge people as per the timing and the service being provided to the guests.

“We do not bother customers for their dates of choice. We give them reservations as per availability,” he informs.

There are about 300 to 400 wedding halls in Peshawar providing jobs to hundreds of workers. The halls’ owners say they suffered millions of loss during the lockdown. Besides, hundreds of their workers also lost jobs due to the closure of the halls.

Saleena Khan, a resident of Pajagi road, says after the reopening of the marriage halls, everyone seems to be in a hurry to reserve booking for their wedding receptions. “This tendency has pushed up the demand for the wedding halls and resultantly, the owners are asking for more money,” she believes.

Saleena’s marriage is scheduled for next month and she is desperate to reserve a hall for the wedding date. She is also worried about booking an appointment at a salon for bridal makeup. “The salons and parlors are already occupied and I had to wait longer to get my turn. It seems quite impossible and I fear I have to do all the bridal makeup myself at home just like people used to do in the past,” a nervous Saleena concludes.

Undoubtedly, the coronavirus pandemic has caused millions of rupees losses to the wedding industry which include wedding hall owners, event organizers, caterers, salon operators, jewelers, photographers and videographers. However, economists believe that the recent inflation in the country has also shrunk the purchasing power of the public, thus further damaging the wedding industry.