Mumbaikars jostle, queue up to stock up on essentials, earn police wrath

Coronavirus oubreak, panic buying, India lockdown, maharashtra government, mumbai news, indian express news

Crowd outside grocessery store after PM announced lockdown.(Express Photo by Amit Chakravarty)

Already faced with vegetables running out in some localities as Mumbai went under a complete lockdown from Monday night, residents reacted to the imposition of a 21-day near-curfew by rushing in droves to grocers and green grocers, their cars and two-wheelers crowding narrow streets in some suburbs and crowding stores selling everyday staples.

While the Maharashtra government’s lockdown order in force prohibits more than five persons gathering in public places, shops in residential areas saw scores of panicked Mumbaikars jostling or queuing up to stock up on essentials, including foodgrain, snacks, milk, eggs, bread and cleaning materials.

The daylong hush across residential areas, as Mumbai began its total lockdown on Tuesday, ended even before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech ended.

First, two-wheelers and then cars headed out of housing societies, honking. As people stood outside stores, policemen used their batons to enforce the ban on gatherings. “I had to return home empty-handed because some policemen were beating people ahead of us,” said Pooja Gala, a working professional who went with her father to a grocery near the Bhayander police station. The road was barricaded but people were forcing their way through, resulting in police using their lathis. “One woman was hit,” Gala said.

In Andheri (West), a large crowd jostled outside a vegetable market, most preparing to stock potatoes, onions and tomatoes, some hoping to get enough for 21 days. Not more than a handful wore masks, and none followed the social distancing norms. “The PM has said there is complete shutdown for 21 days. This will mean we cannot venture out of our homes at all, right?” said one woman in the queue. “It is better to stock up, even if it means standing in a long queue now.”

People stood shoulder to shoulder, with barely a few inches between them, outside general stores, vegetable carts and chemist shops.

In Juhu, a vegetable cart was surrounded by at least 20 people, everybody trying to grab the day’s last remaining vegetables. To add to the confusion, police patrol vehicles and policemen on duty asked people to go home, leading to chaos and more jostling.

A hawker, fearing the police, tried to take his cart away even as many chased after him, the police in pursuit. “I need to stock up and run home or the police will beat me up," said a middle-aged woman, waiting for change from the hawker.

A local resident, Ali Raza, said they’d been trying to explain to residents that the shutdown would continue for Mumbai exactly as it had been on Tuesday, but but the declaration of a 21-day announcement had sharpened people’s fears. “Even if essential commodity shops stay open the panic buying and hoarding will mean no stock will be available for some days. Better safe than sorry, so I’m in queue to purchase eatables,” he told The Indian Express.

A policewoman in Lokhandwala Township, Kandivali, said the crowds grew at stores even before the PM’s speech ended. “They just ran down as soon as PM said lockdown. There was no space for cars to move. Now, we are telling people that essential services will be available and they should go home,” she said.

Vijila Kurup, sales head at an advertising company, spent an hour in queues outside grocery stores in Lokhandwala Township. She said, "We though it is a complete lockdown and we need to stock up. If it had been made clear that grocery shops would function, there wouldn't have been such panic buying. This is absolutely crazy.”

A senior police officer in the western suburbs agreed that they were taken by surprise by the panic buying. “It’s a big health hazard and hence, we have told policemen to ensure that there is no crowing... At some spots, the police also baton-charged the people and asked vegetable vendors to shut down. However, once the policemen left, the crowds assembled again,” the officer said.

In Khar East, as people formed a long queue outside a grocery store where several products were out of sock and some were being sold for over the printed MRP, policemen tried to stop people from standing in a huddled queue, to no avail. Some shoppers were whacked on their legs with police batons. Outside a store in Kandivli (East), policemen tried to make announcements assuring people that essential goods shops would remain open and that the PM's order did not in effect change any lockdown conditions for Mumbaikars. Those in the queue pressed on.

Near Phoneix Marketcity in Kurla, a vegetable vendor was already closing for the day, every item sold out except spinach. Outside the Kohinoor City housing society nearby, within minutes of the PM’s speech ending, people queued up outside a shop selling snacks, chocolates, cold drinks, mineral water, processed food and pre-made packaged food. The store was already running low on supplies, but people waited nevertheless to get whatever was available.

In Andheri (East) and Vile Parle (East) too, people rushed in large numbers to grocery shops and medical stores. Several youngsters lined up outside a flour mill selling wheat-meal. "We had stocked up for three to four days, but there is a lockdown for another 21 days so we are unsure if essentials will be available tomorrow onwards,” said a 19-year-old student. He was also helping other senior citizens to stock up essentials.

Here too, police personnel were seen making announcements on a loudspeaker requesting people to disperse and that essential goods would continue to be available, but with little success.

It was more of the same scenes at Champion Supermarket in Tilak Nagar, where a long queue of people waited to buy groceries and vegetables. The store allowed only four persons inside at a time, but the queue kept growing outside. The lockdown also led to people queuing up outside ATMs.

In Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, around 20 to 25 people stood in queue outside the Dinesh Supermarket near the Valley Shilp housing complex. "The stores have had low stocks for several days, and now with a 21-day shutdown there is no guarantee when stocks will be available. We’re buying for two weeks at least," said Gajanan Chavan, a resident.

"Even if a complete lockdown has been ordered, the state is committed to ensure that there is no shortage of essential commodities. We urge the people to cooperate with the government," Konkan Divisional Commissioner Shivaji Daund said.

A statement released by the state administration, while asking people not to panic, said the government was taking steps to ensure that adequate and continuous supply of essentials like foodgrains, vegetables, milk, bread and medicines was maintained.

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