A day after the West Bengal government announced that it would allow sweet shops in the state to operate from noon to 4 pm every day, Paschim Banga Mistanna Byabsayee Samity, an organisation of sweet shop owners, requested the state government to reschedule the timing from 9 am to 1 pm.
The government on Monday had allowed the shops to run with minimum staff during the nationwide lockdown to stop coronavirus outbreak.
However, the new timing will be of little help as it will be unlikely for people to venture out of their homes during the afternoon to buy edibles, said Dhiman Das, director of K C Das Pvt. Ltd, one of the city’s oldest sweet shops, and executive committee member of the Samity.
“Four hours are sufficient to sell some sweets, but the timings need to be changed. We won’t be able to sell sweets in the usual quantities, but milk wastage will reduce by at least 75 per cent,” Das told The Indian Express.
However, another challenge for sweet shop owners was that most workers in large shops had returned to their villages within days of the announcement of the lockdown and the shops are functioning with skeletal staff.
“These orders may benefit the small family-run sweet shops that can be found in almost every street corner across the state, because they usually run their businesses with a handful of workers who live in the shops or nearby,” Das told The Indian Express.
Despite the orders, many large sweet shops and chains in the city have no plans to restart operations, said Das.
The state government had given the relaxation after the Jorashanko Dugdho Byabshayee Samiti, a local milk traders’ organisation, wrote to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on March 25 saying that gallons of milk were being wasted due to the lockdown. Following the milk traders’ association, sweet shop owners in the city also wrote to the government, urging them to allow to run their shops to curb the wastage of milk.
The total production of milk for the Kolkata metropolitan area is nearly 3 lakh litres daily, of which 2 lakh litres are supplied to sweet shops in the area.
“During the first few days of the lockdown, all the milk was wasted,” Rajesh Sinha, president of Jorashanko Dugdho Byabshayee Samiti, told The Indian Express. Over the next few days, milk traders began selling it for reduced prices in the interiors of the state and had to discard milk stock that was not used.
This relaxation of rules does little to help milkmen and traders said Sinha. Fodder comes from Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and other northern states that has now stopped since the lockdown. Without adequate fodder, cows may stop giving milk and will be sold to slaughterhouses.
“In the summer, milk production is usually low. If this continues, milk will not be found in West Bengal after 20 days,” said Sinha.
Since sweet shops opened on Monday, only 20 per cent of milk has been sold, said Sinha.
“People are buying basic things now and spending money carefully. Sweets will not be a priority for them now,” said Das. “We asked for timings to be changed because people can buy sweets in the morning when they step out to buy groceries,” he added.
176-year-old Girish Chandra Dey & Nakur Chandra Nandy in north Kolkata decided to keep the establishment closed for public health and safety reasons, said Prajesh Nandy, a co-owner of the shop.
“We did not believe that we could follow precautionary measures to prevent COVID-19,” said Nandy. Since the outbreak started, while some customers visiting the shop wore masks and gloves, there were many others who did not. “We were not able to maintain a distance between ourselves and the customers and our lives were at risk.”
For Nandy, the four-hour allowance is too small a window to sell a substantial quantity of sweets. Many workers in his shop have also gone back to their villages. “We will open our shops immediately after the lockdown is lifted,” said Nandy.
Sweet shop owners and milk traders whom The Indian Express spoke to expected Poila Boishak celebrations for the Bengali New Year to be muted this year due to the lockdown. “People won’t really be looking to buy sweets during the lockdown,” said Das.
Das said the Paschim Banga Mistanna Byabsayee Samity appealed to the government to allow operations of shops only in a bid to reduce the milk wastage.
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