Theatre owners say that the state government did not respond to their request for relief and if the Centre doesn't either, they will be forced to shut operations.

150 single screen theatres in Karnataka mull shutting down due to lockdown losses Representation photo
Coronavirus Lockdown Saturday, May 16, 2020 - 15:41

Single screen theatres have come under a cloud of uncertainty as theatre owners in Karnataka say that they will be forced to shut down 150 theatres if the government does not provide them relief. 

It has been close to two months since the lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic began and among the establishments that are still shut are the theatres. In a letter to Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, the Karnataka Film Exhibitors’ Association has said that the theatre owners in the state have suffered a loss of Rs 21 crore so far due to the lockdown. 

The Association has requested the Finance Minister to include single screen theatre owners in the relief package of Rs 20 lakh crore that is meant to boost the country’s economy. 

“The government is already bearing the cost of the Provident Fund for employees. We are not able to pay salaries to workers. We either request that the government allows us to reduce their pay or that the government pays their salaries,” the letter states. 

It further requests the government to waive electricity bills and property tax payment for single screen theatre owners. It also requests the government to allow theatres to be able to levy a “rehabilitation tax of Rs 5 per ticket” once the establishments are allowed to open. 

“We will never recover from this without aid. Even if the government allows us to open, we are expecting people to avoid crowded areas. Even if we open, we are expecting a loss of 40%. We requested the state government many times to provide us with relief but nothing has happened. If the government does not respond, theatre owners have decided that it's better to shut down than continue bearing losses,” KV Chandrashekar, President of the Karnataka Film Exhibitors’ Association, said. 

Theatre owners say that because of the lockdown which has denied them income, the monthly expenses have driven them to a loss and many theatre owners have taken loans to be able to pay their employees and also maintain the theatres. 

According to data provided by the Karnataka Exhibitors’ Association, the collective of 615 theatre owners have ended up paying Rs 10 crore in salaries for around 8000 employees. The theatre owners have spent Rs 5 crore for property tax, Rs 1 crore for electricity bill and Rs 3 crore for maintaining the interiors of the theatre. 

“Multiplexes have to spend far more than us. However, they can recover better than single screen theatre owners. Apart from all these expenses, we have suffered a loss of Rs 2 crore per week in ticket sales. Even if we open, we will run into losses that we cannot bear,” the Association’s treasurer Mukunda Venkatesh said. 

Chandrashekar said that the Association had written to Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa earlier this month. “I have also written to the Food and Civil Supplies Department, which monitors theatres and the Labour Department for relief. None of the state government’s ministers responded to our requests. Now we have written to the Finance Minister. If this doesn’t work, around 150 theatres will have to shut down. We have no other option,” he added. 

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