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Weaker Sections of Maharashtra Fear Another Lockdown as COVID-19 Cases Jump

Small-scale farmers and shopkeepers and street vendors fear the loss of livelihood as they were the worst affected during the last two lockdowns.
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Jaipal Goradia has started losing late-night customers after shutting his grocery at 9.55 pm instead of the usual 11-11.15 pm. The 52-year-old resident of Ulhanagar, Thane, represents the fear of small-scale shopkeepers and farmers and street vendors, apprehending another lockdown and avoiding the new restrictions put in place in view of the increasing COVID-19 cases in Maharashtra.

People who return from work late usually bought groceries from my shop. My customers know that the shop remains open till 11-11.15 pm. But I close the shutters by 10 pm now to avoid arguement with the police,” Goradia, whose shop is close to the railway station, tells Newsclick.

With Maharashtra recording a 30% daily rise in the number of COVID-19 patients in the last ten days and the maximum number of Omicron cases at 510 so far, the state has ordered shops to shut down and residents to return home by 10 pm.

On January 2, 11,877 more people tested positive taking the state’s tally of total active cases to 42,024 with Mumbai recording 7,792 infections and active ones at 28,819.

The sudden jump in cases has panicked the state government with Pradeep Vyas, additional chief secretary, health, writing to all district collectors to take the matter seriously. “Considering the trend in the rising number of infections, we will have 2 lakh active cases by the third week of January,” he wrote suggesting that the third wave is here.

The state administration’s panic is reflecting on the ground. The weaker section fears another lockdown. The first two lockdowns had severely affected the poor and the weak resulting in loss of lives and jobs.

Gunavant Vhanmane, a farmer from Rahuri tehsil of Ahmednagar district, plucked his tomatoes and radish before time last weekend. Recounting his 2021 experience, he says, “The tomatoes were wasted as I waited. By March first week, the number of cases started increasing rapidly and everything collapsed. I couldn’t earn anything. I may get 40% of what I was expecting from my produce, but it is still better than waiting and getting nothing after 15 days,” says Vhanmane, who owns two acres.

The traders at the Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC) also are also feeling the urgency of farmers to sell their produce. “Generally, I buy vegetables from 50-60 farmers daily. Now, almost 90 farmers call me daily asking whether they can sell their crops. It shows the panic about the possibility of another lockdown has reached the villages and smaller towns,” Mukesh Gavhane, a trader at the Kalyan APMC, tells Newsclick.

Maharashtra health minister Rajesh Tope said on Saturday that the state government is not thinking about imposing another lockdown as of now. “We are not going for another lockdown. But people are requested to follow the COVID019 protocols strictly—use masks and sanitisers and avoid going out without any work and public gatherings. Only these precautions can avoid a lockdown,” he told the media.

However, Tope’s statement has failed to calm down the anxious street vendors. “Many of them starved during the last two lockdowns. The state government’s tall claims of supply of free food and stipend to registered vendors were unreal. The vendors fear the return of those days,” says street vendor union leader Shashank Rao.

Rajkiran Belgoji, famously known as Raju Chaiwala at Chhabildas Galli, Dadar West, fears another lockdown. During the last lockdown, he had to send his wife and two sons back to his hometown in Dharwad district of Karnataka. “My sons were enrolled at the Dadar municipal school. But I had no option but to send my family back to my native place after shutting down the shop,” he says.

I survived somehow. But if the lockdown returns, I too will have to go back to Dharwad,” adds, Belgoji, who often has to deal with the police due to the location of his shop at Mumbai’s most crowded and connecting railway station. “The police keep announcing that commuters should wear masks all the time. Commuters too avoid having tea or coffee. It is also affecting my business,” says Belgoji.

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