New Delhi/Ghaziabad: A day before India’s three-week lockdown was extended by a fortnight, the Delhi government Monday announced the implementation of odd-even rules in wholesale markets. This means traders will be able to sell their produce on alternate days — vegetables from 6 am to 11 am and fruit from 2 pm to 6 pm.
The order was drafted keeping in mind guidelines issued by the World Health Organization to practise social distancing.
Delhi’s AAP government has also enlisted the help of civil defence volunteers, who are part of one of the special task forces to ensure smooth running of this plan. The volunteers are to guard the entry and not let anyone enter without an e-pass, to be issued by the Delhi government.
While these moves may be necessary to contain the spread of Covid-19, they have only made the lives of the wholesalers more difficult.
At 9 am Tuesday, North Delhi’s Azadpur mandi, one of the five major wholesale vegetable and fruit markets in the capital, was a sea of confusion.
Bharat Bhushan, a resident of Azadpur, had come to the wholesale market to buy vegetables since the shops close to his house were all shut. “I knew nothing about any e-pass being issued. I only found out when I came here. You can ask any layman, nobody knows,” he told ThePrint.
Bharat was not allowed to enter, despite repeated pleas.
The police and volunteers deployed there explained that entry would only be given to those who have an e-pass, which they claimed takes just a day to make and is valid for two weeks.
Mohammed Zakir Khan, who supplies fruit to Hindurao Hospital in Civil Lines, comes to the Azadpur mandi every week. “Aadhaar card or voter ID card is required for us to make an e-pass. We also have to show the RC of our vehicle in which we are transporting the produce. I applied for my e-pass on 24 March and got it after two days.”
Produce going waste, vendors staring at losses
While fruit and vegetable vendors have been declared essential service providers during the lockdown, their own concerns include produce going to waste and grave losses. Many are forced to pay from their own pockets for vehicles and packaging.
Sant Lal, a mango vendor in Azadpur mandi, has to pay over Rs 1 lakh for transport every month. While the fruit market was to open only at 2 pm, he reached much earlier to set everything up.
“(Before the lockdown), we would sell 1,000-2,000 crates of mangoes, but now nothing has been sold for the past four days. The price keeps varying between Rs 250 and Rs 400,” he told ThePrint.
Hafiz, another fruit vendor at the mandi, is struggling to make ends meet as prices for his produce plummet. “We have lost a lot since the lockdown. All our produce has gone bad. We aren’t even making enough money to pay the rent for our vehicles,” he told ThePrint.
Many vendors also supply fruit and vegetables elsewhere, but that isn’t helping to recover losses.
Umesh Agrawal has a potato business at Azadpur mandi and has been selling them at the usual rate of Rs 18-19 per kg. However, he has seen a loss of 50 per cent since the lockdown began. “We feel like we won’t be able to carry on with our work in the next few days,” he said.
“Our company and hotel supplies have been halted so no money is coming in from there. But we still maintain that we are with the government,” he told ThePrint.
Potatoes here are being sold at Rs 14 per kg as opposed to Rs 16.5. In the same period, onion and tomato prices have dipped from Rs 15 to Rs 12 per kg and Rs 13 to Rs 9 per kg, respectively. Scenes in the Ghazipur wholesale market in Uttar Pradesh were similar. The price of potatoes has gone down from Rs 12 per kg to Rs 8 and onions are going for Rs 10 per kg, down from Rs 13.
Santosh, who sells onions, said, “Before the lockdown, we used to sell 400-500 tonnes of onion, but now it is down to 150-200 tonnes only.”
Like others, he has also seen a drop in the prices. Onions are now being sold at Rs 10-14 per kg, as opposed to the pre-lockdown rate of Rs 25-26 per kg.
Tiff with the police
While social distancing is imperative at the moment, vendors alleged that the police and Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) officials deployed at these markets often use force on them.
While Hafiz alleged cane-charging, labourer Anil Singh said, “The police are not helping us. In fact, they are making our life harder. When the vendors go to sleep, the police don’t let them stay and beat them with lathis.”
While no arrangement could be seen for their shelter, food or water as the vendors spend the entire day there, ThePrint team saw one juice seller providing refreshments to them, albeit illegally. He abandoned his cart every time the police came around.
Manish Agarwal, a commissioning agent at the Azadpur mandi, told ThePrint, “The way doctors, police and journalists are serving the country and are not safe from danger, we are no different. We are also serving the country, so we must also be seen in that light.”
The police, however, expressed concerns that vendors were not listening to their repeated instructions. They said they were simply doing their job to ensure social distancing protocols are followed.
Adil Ahmed Khan, chairman of the Azadpur mandi, said, “Food is served twice a day at 11.30 am and 5.30 pm at Chaudhari Hira Singh Park for everyone in the mandi.” Nearly 3,000-4,000 people are fed at one time at the park located within the boundaries of the mandi.
“Food is served to everyone and anyone who comes there. This arrangement came into place after the lockdown,” Khan told ThePrint.
Sanitation & social distancing: Reality check
Anyone who enters and exits the mandis has to go through a human sanitisation tunnel. Trucks were also seen sanitising limited parts of the busy market.
While sanitation is ensured, social distancing at these wholesale markets is far from reality. “From 4 am to 8 am, the Azadpur market is very crowded. Our bosses have the luxury to practise social distancing, but we don’t. When customers come, they don’t maintain any distance and there is nothing we can do about it,” Anil Singh told ThePrint.
When ThePrint visited the markets, there were ropes put in place that allowed ample space between the seller and consumer, but the labourers who were loading the produce defied all calls for social distancing. Some vendors provided their labourers with masks and gloves, but they didn’t appear to be in good condition. Those who could just wrapped their faces with a piece of cloth.