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WB under lockdown; Mamata seeks Rs 1,500 cr package

Press Trust of India  |  Kolkata 

Coronavirus pandemic desolated vast swathes of West Bengal on Wednesday, the first day of the 21-day nationwide lockdown, with streets empty and markets closed, but some frenzied panic buying at local departmental stores prompted police to use force to disperse customers.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee sought a Rs 1,500 crore package from the Centre to supplement the state government's efforts to deal with the situation.

While most of the state was deserted, people in parts of Kolkata were seen jostling and squabbling in shops to buy essential goods, in violation of the lockdown guidelines against large gatherings.

Frazzled customers were seen queuing up outside cooking gas agencies to buy spare LPG cylinders.

Police baton-charged unruly buyers in some places. People loitering aimlessly on streets were sternly told to return home, government officials said.

In Salt Lake area, the footage of a girl involved in a fracas with a policeman went viral on social media. The girl and her friend were arrested when she allegedly tried to bite a policeman who had stopped their car.

In Birbhum and Bardhaman districts, police officials were seen shooing away people in overcrowded markets.

In some areas, authorities had to close down shops as people refused to abide by the guidelines on social distancing.

Men in uniform were seen moving in neighbourhoods asking people to remain indoors and assuring them of regular supply of grocery, LPG cylinders, and foodgrains.

Amid such reports, the state government has asked all ration shops owners to draw circles at one-metre gaps outside the counters for the customers to stand inside them and ensure that the social distancing norm is maintained.

Several leading online grocers have complained of inability to provide services due to the restrictions imposed by local authorities.

Following complaints of alleged police excesses, Banerjee said people engaged by online platforms for delivery of food items, vegetable vendors and those in other essential services should not be stopped during the lockdown.

Farmers working in fields usually maintain distance between each other and there is no reason they should not be allowed to work, the chief minister said.

Banerjee said the state government has the right to decide on certain provisions of the National Disaster Management Act and a call will be taken on whether some of them can be relaxed after reviewing the situation on March 31.

Meanwhile, the flight of labourers to their homes due to the lockdown is taking a toll on loading and unloading of agricultural produce at the storage facilities in West Bengal, and has raised concerns over a possible crisis in the supply chain in the near future.

Major railway stations, bus terminals, and airports were deserted. Only 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.

Most gated colonies and apartments in the state capital were locked while civic workers were seen sanitizing parks and bus stands.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Wed, March 25 2020. 21:18 IST