Shailesh Salla, a barber, packed his tiffin and went to the bus stand in his village of Bhad in Khambha taluka of Amreli at 7 am on Monday and waited for the Gujarat State Road Transport Corporation (GSRTC) bus plying between Savarkundla and Khambha, by which he commutes usually.
The barber was upbeat, thinking he would be able open his hair-cutting salon in Khambha, after 43 days. He waited for an hour but the bus did not come. Nor a car and a mini truck, which ferries passengers between Bhad and Khambha in normal days, were seen. Eventually, Salla returned home, disappointed.
“My financial condition is getting worse by the day. Government might have permitted hair cutting salons. But without public transport, how people like me would reach our places of work?” asked the 39-year-old barber.
Salla said that he earns an average Rs 8,000 per month from the salon, which is 11 km away from his village. He doesn’t own any vehicle. His wife Vaishali, a helper in an anganwadi, gets Rs 3,500 salary. The couple’s two sons are in school.
BN Charola, Amreli divisional controller of GSRTC said services couldn’t be resumed for want of approval from GSRTC headquarters in Ahmedabad. “We prepared a plan and sent it to our headquarters on Sunday, seeking approval to operate 37 schedules in the district… But the approval is pending,” he said.
Amreli district has not recorded any COVID-19 case so far and, therefore, is a green zone. On Sunday, the state government announced that shops and businesses can open from Monday in green zones. It also announced that buses can ply within the district with maximum 50 per cent seat occupancy. However, apart from a couple of provision stores, most of the shops were closed in Khambha.
Shops selling non-essential items remained closed in Amreli town as district administration ordered them to follow odd-even formula or left and right side of streets for business days. “The sub-divisional magistrate of Amreli ordered us to give odd-even numbers to our shops and keep them open accordingly. Therefore, we decided not to open shops selling non-essential goods on Monday so that we can paste stickers of odd-even numbers on our shops. The order of the SDM means only half of the shops in the town will remain open,” said Sanjay Vanzar, president of Vepari Mahamandal, Amreli.
Provision store owners said rush of customers was normal on Monday also. “There is no increase in footfall. But during the lockdown, my business has increased 30 per cent as people are consuming more while at home,” said Sanjay Patel, owner of Patel Provision Store in Rajkamal Chowk of Morbi town.
Vishal Brahmbhatt, owner of another provision store in Tower Chowk of the town, said prices of pulses have increased by around 30 per cent. “This is due to disruption in supply chain, mainly transportation. The demand has remained stable,” he said.
Mehezbin Sheikh (54), a homemaker who was out with his son Migdad (24) to purchase coriander seeds, said the lockdown had hit finances of her home. “We are a family of six members and Migdad, who is an RTO agent, is the main breadwinner. He hasn’t been able to open his office for more than 40 days. We are running out of our savings,” she said.
Amreli District Collector Ayush Oak said the odd-even and left-ride side rules were necessary to maintain social distancing. “Some of the streets in the town are merely eight to 10 feet wide and if all shops open simultaneously, social distancing norms are likely to be violated as people will come out if not to purchase something than even to see what is open and what is not. Therefore, we left to it to traders and they have decided among themselves who will remain open when,” Oak said.
The District Collector said his priority was to handle around 1.5 lakh people who are expected to return to their homes in Amreli from cities like Surat and Ahmedabad where they work.
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