As Curbs Ease, Kolkatans Go Through Mixed Feelings of Relief & Fear; Norms Flouted in Several Places

Sujit Nath

Parimal Naskar, a salesman and resident of Tetultala in Jessore Road, Dumdum, woke up early on Monday, and after a quick prayer, pulled out his bi-cycle from a temporary tarpaulin shed behind his one-room shanty and left for Bagri Market in Kolkata’s Burrabazar area.

Ever since the lockdown was imposed to check the spread of coronavirus, Naskar has been facing acute financial crisis.

Two months on, when his employers asked him to join the ‘gaddi’ (as wholesale business establishments of the Marwari community are known in the business district of central Kolkata), Naskar is looking forward to start afresh.

He wore a mask and gloves and paddled all the way amid the sweltering heat to Burrabazar to rejoin ‘duty’. His wife, Malati, asked him to bring a packet of ‘Maggi’ as their daughter has asking for it since days.

So far, Naskar thought it wise to not spend money on non-essential items, but on Monday, he promised his daughter to fulfil her wish as he left for work.

As Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee announced a phase-wise reopening of the state fighting the twin disasters of coronavirus and cyclone Amphan, families of sole bread-earners like Naskar’s express relief.

Thousands of people across the city came out on Monday to reach their respective work places and reopen their businesses badly hit by the months-old lockdown. Commuters had a harrowing time due to the availability of less number of public transport.

Suspension of local trains added to the woes as thousands from the suburbs and outskirts are dependent on railways to reach their place of work in the city.

While some walked to their offices, others managed to find space in government buses, social distancing gone for a toss in several cases. A majority of private bus operators have refused to resume services due to fare issues, but ferry services across the Hooghly river resumed after months.

“I came to the ferry ghat in a cycle and from there, I took the ferry to BK Pal launch ghat and then walked towards my office at Poddar Court. Ferries are a big relief for us,” said Nibaran Das, an employee of a furniture shop at Rabindra Sarani.

However, those using their own vehicles expressed their satisfaction over the role of police in managing traffic.

In some of the major intersections like Howrah, Gariahat, Shyambazar, VIP Road, Ultadanga, and Garia in the city, commuters were seen flouting social distancing norms while standing in queue and boarding buses.

Meanwhile, the civic body imposed fines on those not wearing masks in front of markets, shops and salons. Violators were sent back home. Shopkeepers and other essential service providers were asked not entertain customers not abiding norms.

Most traders expressed fears about not being able to make good the losses suffered due to the lockdown and customers staying away even now fearing spread of the infection.

Bimal Rathi, a wholesale trader of electrical and bathroom fittings items in the city’s Ezra Street area, said most labourers have gone home and he could find none around to transport goods.

“Most of the transporters are from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh and all of them went back to their hometown. Also, many shops across the city are yet to reopen as there is fear among traders about the spread of COVID-19. I came to my office today, but there is no business. We are actually worried about our future,” Rathi said.

Although relaxations have been announced for religious institutions, most of the well-known temples across the state like Dakshineshwar temple, Kalighat, Tarapith, Belur Math, Iskon temple are yet to re-open for devotees. The famous Lake Kali Bari and Thantania Kali temple in the city, however, opened their doors to worshippers on Monday.

On May 29, the chief minister had said, “All government and private offices will be operational with 100 percent workforce from June. Tea and jute sectors will also operate with 100 per cent attendance. We have to live with coronavirus, but the economy come to a standstill”

Regarding opening of religious places, Banerjee had urged members of such institutions to follow all safety measures. “All these places should

be sanitised properly and not more than 10 people will be allowed at a

time,” she had said.

A senior bureaucrat in the state secretariat said Monday being the first day of eased curbs, commuters may have faced some problems, adding that things would improve in the coming days.

“We have asked the district administrations and police to ensure people follow the norms to contain the spread of virus. The city will take some time to adjust with the present pandemic situation,” he said.