Das’s income is down by many notches while prices of daily items have gone up. “Is it possible to make ends meet like this,” he asks. But he has heard that from the next week, he will get free ration.
As part of the relief package in the wake of coronavirus, the West Bengal government
has decided to offer free ration till September. People getting subsidised rice at Rs 2 a kg and wheat at Rs 3 a kg will now get it free. The maximum cap is 5 kg a month. But Das and his family need close to 1 kg of rice a day.
Seventy-year-old Ajit Bagui has been told that the 16 kg of rice at Rs 2 a kg that he receives as dole will be clubbed and given later. He has received Rs 2,000 a month, though.
Bagui is an unwilling farmer, or one who resisted giving up land for the Nano factory, and didn’t collect compensation. In Singur, some farmers were always more equal than others. They receive 16 kg of rice at Rs 2 a kg and Rs 2,000 a month. Since the Supreme Court verdict that quashed the land acquisition for the factory, and ordered return of land to the farmers, Bagui has been farming on his 10-cottah plot. He has grown paddy, but is handicapped by the shortage of hands.
Of the 1,000 acres allocated for the factory, 400 acres was used for agriculture. Bagui says, “Times are not good, I have to borrow to keep things going.”
Singur is where Tata Motors
had decided to set up its Nano plant in 2006. But a land agitation, spearheaded by Mamata Banerjee, led to its pullout and unseated the Left Front, ending its 34-year rule in Bengal, paving the way for Trinamool Congress. At the height of the agitation and after, the decibel level at Singur has always been high. The Covid scare, however, appears to have tempered it. Save for some people at the bazar, Singur is near-deserted. The usual huddle around the deep tubewells, at the nooks and corners, is missing, and is replaced by heightened awareness about the virus attack.
At the sweet shops, some owners are seen handling currency notes with tongs; the circles for maintaining social distance outside the kirana stores are visible.
Lest anyone forgets, there is always Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's awareness message playing in a loop from mics in the marketplace — gadagadi korey line e danraben na, durey durey danran (don’t fall over each other, maintain distance in a line).
The scare is such that only a few can be spotted without a protective mask. That’s translated into good business for some. “In the first three days of the lockdown, I sold masks worth Rs 1000-1,500 a day,” says a man selling them at Rs 10 and Rs 20 apiece. Supplies are coming from a local hosiery factory, which is now shut. But now the frenzy is kind of dying down. Most of them have bought, he points out to a few at the bazar.
The bazar is well stocked for now. There is no dearth of vegetables; the only issue is with the supplies from Kolkata. The bigger kirana stores source a lot of supplies from Posta Bazar, the wholesale market in Kolkata. In turn, they serve the smaller ones. But Posta Bazar is not fully functional, a fraction of the shops are open on a rotational basis.
Jagadhatri Bhandar got its supply of pulses, soybean and spices last week from there. But people have been buying double of what they normally do. So he will have to stock up again. The problem is vehicles are hardly available from Kolkata. Even if they are, charges are much higher, says Anup Dey. He now has to hire a small van from Singur and take it to Kolkata, which works out cheaper.
Supplies are getting choked all over the country due to restrictions on movement of trucks. At Dunkuni, about 18 km from Singur, and along the National
Highway, scores of trucks are seen parked. The only ones moving are the LPG tankers.
Sajal Ghosh, general secretary of the Federation of West Bengal Truck Operators Association (FWBTOA), said 50,000-60,000 trucks were stuck in West Bengal. “Except foodgrains-related essentials, nothing is moving.”