Monday, 30th October 2017

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Supply worry spurs scurry

The govt’s lockdown order resulted in panic buying of essentials as traders made a fast buck

  • Published 27.03.20, 12:12 AM
  • Updated 27.03.20, 12:12 AM
  • 4 mins read
  •  
A serpentine queue outside a grocery shop near Baisakhi Abasan at 9am on Monday Debasmita Bhattacharjee

All hell broke loose at the markets on Monday. Some fought with others and jumped queues to buy vegetables, others bought up to 15kg of rice at a go. Some made three trips to the market before they got everything they wanted and most had to wait in the longest queues since demonetisations days.

In the short window that was open between back-to-back coronavirus lockdowns on Monday, residents scrambled for supplies.

Firoza Islam of AF Block’s police quarters was seen walking home with bags full at 7am, even before most shops had opened. “Milk, curd, fruits, chicken… I came early before it got crowded and I don’t want to come out again,” she said through her mask.

BE Block’s Shymal Basu said he came in the first hour, “before they hike prices”.

Like there’s no tomorrow

Outside Baisakhi Abasan, queues had formed long before the government truck selling vegetables arrived. And when it did, it was a free for all. People jumped queues, pushed one another and fought tooth and nail, verbally, for supplies. Soon the lanes were overrun by shoppers, hawkers, cars and chaos.

“I don’t want to hoard but my father is 60-plus. I’m stocking up on six months of basic supplies so we don’t have to leave the house in case things get worse,” said A. Chakraborty of BF Block, shopping at AE.

No wonder AE Block’s Mother Dairy outlet sold out in an hour flat on Monday morning. “He who normally buys one packet of milk bought 10 today,” said Uddhav Biswas, manning the counter. “We sold 230l but even if we had 500l today it would have fallen short.”

S. Chakraborty of AE Block was seen walking out of the market at 8am, empty-handed. “Potatoes, onions…everything’s finished,” he said, wondering what time to return for another try.

At CA Market customers tried to place orders for mutton, saying they’d pick it up after shopping for groceries but by noon the butcher refused. “I’m not sure there would be any left,” said the busy man, without looking up.

A customer wearing mask and gloves walks out of IA Market with bags full on Monday
A customer wearing mask and gloves walks out of IA Market with bags full on Monday Debasmita Bhattacharjee

Multiple visits

Goutam Dasgupta of Labony was on his second visit to IA Market when The Telegraph Salt Lake met him. “On the first trip I handed a list to a shopkeeper, now I’m picking it up and I’ll be back late afternoon to buy bread and eggs as they’ve run out now,” said the elderly man wearing a mask and rubber gloves. “I’m preparing for the worst and have bought 15kg of rice.”

At Baisakhi, a shopper, K. Gupta, was livid. “I was standing in a queue to buy potatoes when a couple before me enquired the price. When the vendors said it was Rs 28 a kilo, they offered him Rs 32 and asked him to handover 20kg!” he said. “The crowd was furious at their attempted bribery and we scolded the couple till they left the queue. If one person buys 20kg what will the 20 buyers behind him eat?”

Anindya Basu was late to buy milk in the morning but BJ Block’s Mother Dairy vendor had told him they would re-open at 4pm. “So I’m queuing up from 3.40pm, said the BK Block resident, who became the first customer in the afternoon. “Bread and eggs had sold out at BJ and CK Market too so I’ll pick some up now.”

On Monday the curfew set in again at 5pm but at 5.30, the Mother Dairy in front of CK Market had 46 people in line. “I didn’t queue up in the morning as it was too crowded and now I pray milk doesn’t run out by the time it’s my turn,” said Pallavi Prasad, standing behind 40 hopefuls.

No need to panic

One senior citizen at BD Market looked lost and dazed as all around him rushed to grab things. “What to buy? Things are either finished, expensive or need me to queue up for ages...”

“I understand if people are hoarding potatoes. They last long. But even my fruit shelves have been swept clean,” said a puzzled Mukul Biswas of GD Market. “I think they’ll be keeping fruits in fridges and eating for weeks.”

Many vendors said they lived nearby and would keep cycling to work. “My vegetables come by private vans so there should not be a problem in supply either,” said Nitai Pal of AE Market.

Ashim Kumar Das of CE Market too didn’t understand what the panic was about. “There’s no scarcity. Yesterday I placed an order, today it arrived. Buyers are creating an artificial situation where they themselves will have to pay inflated rates.” His shop had run out of instant noodles early in the day.

In a township where a siesta is sacrosanct for shopkeepers post lunch, Monday kept them on their toes. “Everything finished in the first half so I had to rush to wholesaler’s for cooking oil, sugar, pulses….I couldn’t go home to eat or rest,” said Bibekananda Das of Ramakrishna Bhandar in BJ Market. “I’ve started rationing too. He who asks for 1kg is getting no more than 250g of an item from my shop.”

GD Market’s Loknath Saha ran from pillar to post in Muchibazar all afternoon to top-up his vegetables. “They’re looting us there, charging double for everything,” he said, sitting to eat lunch at 4pm. “We’ll keep shops open so customers need to relax.”

Surajit Maity of AE Block said hoarding lead to 50 per cent waste. “I say this from experience. I bought supplies in excess during past floods but it amounts to zilch. I’m relying on online grocers and will only go out for milk.”

Sujata Bhuti of DL Block agreed. “Panic buying is a mania. If you try to hoard you’ll always be short of something,” she said. “I’m not hoarding and neither should others.”

The Mother Dairy booth at GD Market had a queue of 28 people at 4pm
The Mother Dairy booth at GD Market had a queue of 28 people at 4pm Debasmita Bhattacharjee

At an arm’s length

Buyers, sellers all wore masks or tied handkerchiefs and dupatta across their faces or held their sari’s anchal over their nose. But in an attempt to buy all they see, most people forgot about social distancing.

“Nepal’s vegetable shop is so crowded I ran out of there,” cried S. Patra, hurrying out of AE Market. “I’m not getting sick.”

Standing in the Mother Dairy queue behind the swimming pool, A. Chakraborty had to give a piece of her mind to shopper’s breathing down one other’s neck. “People weren’t willing to stand apart as they felt others would cut in,” she said.

But it wasn’t customers alone who were iffy. “What if I get coronavirus from a customer?” asked Debu Hati, fruit seller outside AE Market. “I’m not allowing them to touch the fruits or baskets here. I’m pouring the fruits into their bags and bidding them goodbye.”

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