People throng a chemist shop in Shyambazar in Kolkata. (Photo by Partha Paul)
The first day of the 21-day nationwide lockdown in West Bengal saw empty streets, closed markets and police stopping people from defying the restrictions. However, no fresh positive novel coronavirus (COVID-19) case was reported from the state.
With supply chain hit, vegetable prices sold at a few markets in the morning soared across the state. In grocery stores, people jostled with each other to buy essential goods.
To disperse unruly people at some places, police baton-charged them at some places. Police were seen moving in neighbourhoods asking people to remain indoors and assuring them of regular supply of grocery, LPG cylinders and foodgrains.
Major railway stations, bus terminals, and airports remained deserted. A few police vehicles and those associated with emergency services were seen on the roads. Vendors did not deliver newspapers in most parts of the state.
Vegetable prices soar
Residents of Kolkata and other parts of the state felt the heat as vegetable prices shot up overnight in the local markets. While there were customers crowding the markets early in the morning, later in the day, with restrictions in place, the shops hardly had any buyer.
According to sources, the major hurdle was the police crackdown on transportation of vegetables and perishable goods from the wholesale markets to the retail shops. While the wholesale markets had goods in abundance, the local markets saw a scarcity. The middlemen, who are the connecting link between the wholesale and retail markets, took advantage of the crisis and hiked the prices.
After receiving several complaints, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday asked police not to stop movement of vegetables and grocery vendors and food delivery persons. She warned of action if essential services were stopped. According to the president of West Bengal Chashi Vendors’ Association and a wholesaler in Koley Market, Kamal Dey, police did not stop vehicles that brought vegetables from several districts of Bengal or other states to the wholesale markets. But people faced resistance when goods were being transported to the local markets.
“Train movement has been halted. So, now the only mode of transporting vegetables to the 358 retail markets in Kolkata is by road. But, now police are stopping those vehicles,” said Dey.
Uttam Hazra, executive committee member of Patipukur market wholesalers’ association, said: “Last week, we had plenty of demand ahead of the Janata curfew. But when the lockdown started, demand also decreased. Again now, we have stock of vegetables, but there is no demand in the market. We don’t know how long we will be able to survive.” The Koley and Patipukur markets are the largest wholesale markets in Kolkata.
Dulal Mondol, a shopkeeper at Garia Bazar, said: “Early in the morning, the local markets saw a heavy footfall of buyers. But we did not have enough stock. So, prices of vegetables increased.”
He blamed the middlemen, who bring vegetables from wholesale to local markets, for the rise of prices.
Arrests and FIRs
As many as 871 people were arrested in Kolkata in the last 24 hours for defying the lockdown order. Kolkata Police made the arrest during naka-checking and patrolling across the city. On Tuesday, over 1,000 people were arrested for violation of lockdown norms.
Second COVID-19 hospital soon
The state government has decided to open a second coronavirus hospital, which will be set in Cancer Hospital in Kolkata’s Rajarhat area. However, officials did not reveal by when the hospital will be ready. It will be turned into a 500-bed unit. Fifty doctors and a superintendent were deployed on Wednesday to make arrangements. Besides Caner Hospital, Calcutta Medical College (CMC) in Kolkata is being converted into a coronavirus hospital.
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