Shoppers throng vegetable stalls, no social distancing

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The markings made by vendors to ensure people aren’t in close proximity are being ignored


The panic triggered by the 21-day lockdown has turned the fight for survival into a choice between safeguarding against the pandemic and fending for one’s nutrition. The crowds flocking to the markets stand witness to the fact that people have neither understood nor bought into the efficacy of social distancing in the days of COVID-19.

Saturday morning all the markets in central Pune – be it Mandai, Nehru Chowk or Nana Peth, were thronging with people who had no use for the markings made by the vegetable vendors to aid distancing among their customers. In fact, most were righteous about not being mindful in maintaining the requisite distance, especially in the light of the APMC market being shut the past few days shrinking the supply of vegetables in the city substantially.

“Corona or no corona, people cannot stop eating. We’ve been hearing about the cops and politicians helping out people. We live in Sadashiv Peth and we’ve received no help. The past few days all we’ve been eating is rice and pulses. This can’t go on,” declared a very riled customer, Sumedha Tandale, who was picking up fruits and vegetables at Mandai.



At Nehru Chowk, another buyer argued, “We are a joint family of eight. I am the only woman who can run errands every morning. While I appreciate the concerns about the present situation, I have to go out and ensure my family get their regular meals. I try my best to get done with my purchases as quickly as possible and go home.”

The market places are teeming with people between 6.30 am and 11 am, after which the cops’ presence get stronger. From the concerns voiced by different people it was evident that panic buying was still rampant as people feared that the lockdown period will get extended and the availability of commodities will whittle down. They are trying to load up while things are still accessible.

Remarkably, the alarm is not onesided, as a vegetable vendor explains, “We’ve made the markings and tell our customers to adhere to them. But the vigilance is not sustainable during the rush hours. We also want to get as much business as possible, uncertain what tomorrow holds.”

The indiscipline is not confined to buying perishable stuff. Long queues were also seen snaking outside shops vending gas cylinders. Vahikar Gas Agency, a shop at Bhavani Peth had over 200 customers crowding outside it on Satuday morning. “We open the shop for a short duration in the mornings to help as many people as we can. We keep telling our customers to not crowd around, promising to help each one of them,” said Ajit Vahikar, one of the owners of the shop.

Clearly disturbed by this issue, district collector Naval Kishore Ram observed, “This is a very serious complaint at a time when we are suggesting that even family members keep a distance from each other. We’ve started taking action against people in housing societies who gather in groups. We will ask the cops to make several rounds to ensure the social distancing.”

The cops are feeling the heat of this new kind of policing that has come on them. At Vishrambaug police station, police inspector B Chudappa pointed out, “We are trying our best to ensure markings are done and people keep the distance called for. We’re also making regular rounds to monitor the situation. But people too need to be cooperative and realise that this is being done for their own good.”

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