Lucknow: As the coronavirus pandemic intensified across the country, the Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh on Wednesday banned the manufacture and sale of ‘paan masala’ and ‘gutkha’ in the entire state. The government claimed that the move will help to stop the spread of coronavirus.
A notification issued by the Food Security Commissioner Ministry of the state government banned the manufacturing, storage, sale, transportation, display, and distribution of food articles in which tobacco or nicotine are used as ingredients.
The ban imposed on the first day of the nationwide lockdown is for an indefinite period.
"Manufacturing, sale and storage of pan masala is being banned in the state till further orders. Spitting pan masala can spread Covid-19," Food Security Commissioner, Ministhy S, said in an order.
Those found violating the orders will be dealt with strictly according to the law, the order said.
As per the order: “In view of the spread of Covid-19 and lockdown announced by the government, the manufacturing, distribution and sale of paan masala and gutkha is banned in the state till further orders. Action under the Food Security Act will be taken against the persons and establishments which violate the order. The state government will cancel the licence of the units and close the shops.”
The move to suddenly stop manufacture, citing coronavirus, has left hundreds of workers in the manufacturing companies as well as small pan shop vendors in the lurch. Some of them alleged that without releasing their due payments, they were told not to come to the factory.
Sunil Kumar Modi, president of Paan Dukandaar Welfare Association, Lucknow unit, said that first the municipal corporation finished our business, then came up with multiple advisories saying we cannot set up shop anywhere. Modi alleged they were harassed mentally and physically and now this order to completely shut shops will hit them the most. For the labourers, who live hand to mouth, the situation will be devastating, he added.
NewsClick spoke to Sunil Modi, Ravi Jain, Nagendra Baranwal, Manoj Kumar and Vijar Bahadur Singh, who are all tobacco sellers in Lucknow, but are not registered with the labour department or municipal corporation. They said they were worried about life coming to a standstill due to this pandemic and even after it ends.
“Most of the people in this business are migrantsfrom Jharkhand, Bihar or villages in Uttar Pradesh, so we are not registered with the municipal corporation. In this condition, we cannot avail the relief provided by the state government. We are running out of our savings. How will we feed our families? My wife expects me to return with milk and vegetables in the evening, but since the past three days, I could not get any work for myself and vegetable prices have skyrocketed," said Modi.
Nagendra and Manoj said the government should have also kept people like them in mind --those who are neither registered nor are have a ration card for below poverty line (BPL) citizens.
Ashok Kumar Gupta, president of the Street Vendors Association of Lucknow said that tobacco manufacturing companies and shops were closed since March 20 and most of the workers had left the city. “We came to know through workers that they have been not paid the due amount and were asked to come after coronavirus ends.”
Similarly, street vendors have been hit the most due to the lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. “It has been six days since Adityanath had announced one-month free foodgrains to poor people along with Rs 1,000 as compensation to daily wage workers who have been affected. We are collecting food items and distributing among poor people," said Gupta.
"We live in an industrial region and many of us here do not have savings to stock food supplies like others. Our phone keeps buzzing all the time that there is an acute shortage of lentils and oils. We are organising locally to ensure that the crisis does not consume us but till how long can we do this,” he added.
NewsClick made several calls to the Labour Department for a comment but these went unheeded.
Read More: UP Roads Fall Silent Amid Lockdown till March 27, Mass Exodus by Migrant Labour