The costly side of lockdowns

While the prices of vegetables and fruits had escalated during the three-week lockdown in Guwahati a substantial number of people have also been rendered jobless. Fit Northeast examines the aftermath

After the State Health Ministry had announced a two-week lockdown in Guwahati on the 26th of June the prices of fruits and vegetables had catapulted to illogical highs. On 27th  and 28th - the two days preceding the lockdown- roadside traders were seen charging almost triple the normal amount for a kilogram of fruits and vegetables. The worst part was that different vendors had quoted different prices citing over demand and supply constraints. Some vendors also alleged that the wholesale retailers were hoarding the supply of essential fresh food items.
Interestingly, one day after the announcement of lockdown, the directorate of horticulture and food processing had issued a price list of vegetables.
The list includes Ridge Gourd at Rs 35/kg, Tender Ash Gourd at Rs 30/piece, Pointed Guard at Rs 30/Kg, Long Bean at Rs 40/Kg, Bitter Gourd at Rs 40/Kg,  Ladies Finger at Rs 30/kg, Cabbage at Rs 30/kg, Chili at Rs 60/kg, Carrot at Rs 90/kg, French Beans at Rs 90/kg, Sponge Gourd at Rs 30/kg, Cucumber at Rs 30/kg, Bottle Gourd at Rs 35 per piece  and Assam Lemon at  Rs 3 a piece.  
While in the first week of lockdown no retail activities, excluding pharmacy services had been permitted, the second week saw a degree of relaxation. Grocery shops were allowed to function and door to door sale of fruits and vegetables were permitted.  However, in this regard there were blatant discrepancies. While almost 80 percent of localities did not see any vendors the ones that did had to contend with exorbitant prices. Fit NorthEast had spoken to a few citizens to get their views around this time.
"The state government should also provide helpline numbers to report violation of set prices", shared Manisha Hazarika. "Even though the state government has fixed the rates of fruits and vegetables, the vendors are charging three times higher than the actual price. I got tomatoes for Rs 125/kg", says Alok Basumatari.
Interestingly, one day after the announcement of lockdown, the directorate of horticulture and food processing had issued a price list of vegetables which was blatantly violated.
"If people survive the corona virus, they will surely die out of hunger", lamented Tanu Verma. To add to the quandary of rising food prices many people had lost their source of income during the lockdown phase. While private companies had started the process of downsizing their employee strength in the wake of the six week long national lockdown, people engaged in business were severely impacted during the actual lockdown days. Speaking to Fit NorthEast a couple of shopkeepers (dealing with stationery and garments) had lamented that their daily earnings had dwindled by almost three fourths in May and June. Needless to say complete lockdown meant zero income with fixed inventory costs.
Representative image
Image: Representative image
"Almost 80% of people have no source of income and all savings have dried up. Particularly  the middle class families, who do not have government jobs or businesses, are adversely affected. They are all robbed by the vendors who are increasing rates by almost three times. Because this is happening in the category of essential items, the situation is actually quite grim." says Vishal Sharma.
The disheartening state of increased food prices continues to be a reality for people in the city even today. "If the government and trade bodies do not contain inflation in food items very strictly the middle class people too will be reduced to beggars within a few months", says Ananya Deka.
The conditions are not very different for the rest of Assam.
Watch this space for updates on other districts.

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