The nationwide lockdown has disrupted supplies of bread in Kolkata, a breakfast staple in many houses, as half of the city’s bread factories have closed after the restrictions were imposed in the wake of novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
“We do not know how long we can run the factories. Many workers are migrants who are afraid of contracting coronavirus and are worried about their families. They want to go home,” said Idris Ali, Secretary, Joint Action Committee of West Bengal Baker’s Association. The hurdle is not only limited to lack of employees. The availability of raw material has also hit manufacturing.
For instance, flour is brought in from Uttar Pradesh, supplies of which have dwindled over the past few days. “Mills in Bengal do not have good quality flour and they will not be able to give us sufficient supplies because their production is not very high,” said Ali.
Other essential ingredients such as yeast have been hard to find as the government does not list it as an essential commodity.
In the Kolkata metropolitan area, there are approximately 1,000 bakeries, of which only half are open.
Last week, the association asked Kolkata Mayor Firhad Hakim for help with procuring flour for their businesses. “He said he would help us,” Ali said.
M M Rahman, 59, who owns a bread factory in Topsia said the real challenge faced by the industry was the shortage of employees. “We told them that we would give them accommodation and food, but their families were afraid. We just couldn’t make them understand,” said Rahman, who has been running his business for two decades. The story is not dissimilar in other factories.
With panicked workers leaving in droves, Rahman was compelled to close down his factory soon after the lockdown. “I had no option.”
Factory owners who are members of the West Bengal Baker’s Association said while they had not increased the prices, they had heard reports of locals shops selling them at inflated costs.
Flurys’ on Park Street has closed all outlets in compliance with government regulations. However, after a social media call for resumption of bread supplies, the confectionery began supplying products to residential complexes. Unlike many local factories, Flurys’, according to its executive chef Vikas Kumar, has instead increased its production of breads since the lockdown. “We are transporting workers who live around Kolkata to the factories, using essential services passes. People are working extra hours.”
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