Rumours of another complete lockdown due to the rising number of Covid-19 cases resulted in a brawl outside a few wholesale tobacco shops in Naswadi town of Chhota Udepur district on Friday. People gathered at the shops to “stock up” on the substance and related products, indulged in fistfights until local police intervened, following which the administration sealed the wholesale shops.
The incident took place on Friday afternoon, as residents thronged shops of wholesale tobacco dealers to make purchases for their personal stock, along with retailers of tobacco products who wanted to lay their hands on the stock before the prices shoot up in the event of another lockdown. The situation had unfolded earlier in April, when the first nationwide lockdown was announced.
At a time when social distancing is mandatory in markets, those who queued up outside the tobacco shops lost patience and broke into a physical altercation, pulling one another by their shirt collars and even resorting to fist-fighting.
A tobacco trader, who had queued up at the shop said, “Since last evening, I have received messages warning of a complete lockdown from June 15 as the cases across Gujarat and the country are increasing. The prices of tobacco products — paan masala, gutka, cigarettes and beedis — had shot up by almost 50% from the distributors’ level, who wanted to make the most of the prohibition of sale. We did not want to take a chance this time, so we wanted to pick up stock. People who are addicted to the products are willing to pay any amount to get their daily dose of nicotine. However, we also saw individual customers here who had arrived to make direct wholesale purchases and the queue was not moving. When some people asked the others to hurry up, it resulted in a verbal argument and soon, everyone lost patience and turned violent.”
The Naswadi police did not book a case, however, the administration sealed the shops for violation of social distancing norms.
Chhota Udepur District Collector Sujal Mayatra said, “We are aware about the incident in Naswadi. We have asked mamlatdar and the sub-divisional magistrate to keep a close watch on the situation. Those shops were sealed and we are emphasising on not believing fake news. No case has been booked. The sale of tobacco is not prohibited.”