Crowds began to build up in city markets around dawn on Monday, more than an hour before stores opened and vendors arrived with vegetables and fish. In some localities, entire families descended on the market, ignoring fears of contracting the virus, to carry home as much as they could. The most frequently asked question was: “Will the store remain open during lockdown?’
How we manage the lock-down period is going to be a huge test. Government agencies must implement the lock-down strictly and logically; violators should face the music but there should be no highhandedness with emergency-service sectors. Citizens, too, have to be responsible.
The biggest crowd was at the wholesale Koley market where not just vegetable retailers but ordinary customers turned up on Monday to purchase in bulk. There were long queues in front of kiosks selling potatoes, onions and other vegetables.
“There was a mad scramble to buy vegetables and essentials. People came in droves. My entire stock of 200kg potatoes was sold within a couple of hours,” said Pradip Guchait, who has a shop outside Koley Market.
In most markets, vegetable supplies emptied out by mid-morning despite vendors quoting twice the rate and in some, prices soared by the hour. Between Friday and Monday, potato prices shot up from Rs 14-16 a kg to Rs 25-35, onion from Rs 18-20 a kg to Rs 30-35, brinjal from Rs 15-20 a kg to Rs 70-80, tomato from Rs 20-25 to Rs 60-70 and cauliflower from Rs 25 a piece to Rs 80.
A wholesale vegetables trader cited the absence of local trains as the primary reason for the price hike. “One can transport 500kg of vegetables from Krishnagar by train for Rs 400. To do the same in a mini-truck costs Rs 2,000 on a twin-sharing basis,” said Sahadeb Sarkar, a trader at the Koley market.
The situation was further compounded by the drastic reduction in trucks carrying in essential items from other states. Only 20% of 30,000 trucks that usually ferry commodities including fish and eggs arrived on Monday.
“No truck has moved from Odisha since Sunday. It is the same in states like Maharashtra. This will eventually lead to short-term supply shortage if no coordinated approach is taken by the states,” said Prabir Chatterjee, organising secretary of Federation of Truck Operators Association.
There were huge crowds at grocery stores too. In some neighbourhoods, grocery shops imposed restrictions on bulk purchasing to ensure regular customers could be serviced. Still, essentials like rice, edible oil and salt emptied out before noon.
At Maniktala market, shoppers picked up fish, eggs, vegetables alongwith soap and shampoo. By 8am, the crowd of buyers had swelled so much that it became difficult to enter through any of the six gates. Average wait time at most shops was 30 minutes.
“We don’t know when the situation will return to normal. This lockdown may get extended by several days if the infection isn’t arrested. The extended lockdown will push up prices further. I am buying provisions worth Rs 26,000,” said Arpan Karmakar, a resident of Beadon Street.
Most people tried to stock up on milk, bread and eggs. Many complained these essentials were unavailable in most markets on Monday morning. There was as much interest in non-essentials with meandering queues outside most chicken, mutton and wine shops. Dressed chicken, the price of which had plummeted due the coronavirus fear, soared from Rs 120 a kg on Friday to Rs 220 on Monday. And still the stocks ran dry.
KMC market derpartment has asked market superintendants to keep close vigil on all major municipal markets to prevent hoarding and panic buying. The Enforcement Branch also carried out checks at over 40 markets.
With people continuing to throng shops and markets around the lockdown hour despite most running out of stocks, police vans moved around dispersing people. Multiple check points were set up across the city and cops went about patrolling on motorcycles and PCR vans.
“While there will be 19 nakas, mainly at the city entrances that will help stop any non-essential vehicle movement, police will be present at all major crossings. We will also arrange for police station specific motor-cycle patrolling to ensure all non-esssential services are shut. These teams will also take action against hoarding and blackmarketing. We plan to begin with 70 motorcycle patrols and around 60 PCR and HRFS mobile patrol teams. There will be separate teams from Enforcement Branch patrolling the main markets,” said joint CP (headquarters) Subhankar Sinha Sarkar.
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