Ahmed Qureshi, 45, got his first earning after the lockdown was imposed in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic, on Wednesday – Rs 750. That was the lowest daily income he has received since he began selling chicken at the age of 17. The money came by when two regular customers bought fresh chicken, even as poultry shops remain “closed” in Vadodara.
“On Tuesday night, a relative, who rears chickens at home was able to bring some stock. I bought chickens for Rs 60 per kg and sold it off for Rs 100 per kg. Between my two customers on Wednesday, I managed to make Rs 750. But since I was worried about being booked, I closed my shop immediately after I had finished,” Qureshi says.
Qureshi, who lives with his four children and ageing parents says the family first purchased grocery for one month.
“For a week, we had almost run out of groceries. While many generous people within our community have been helping those who have lost their livelihood. But it was very tough for me to ask for help in buying groceries. My wife rationed whatever we had at home until I got the money,” he says.
Like Qureshi, many other meat vendors in the city’s bylanes, opened their shops this week, procuring some poultry stock from around the district.
Another seller from Ajwa Road says, “On Monday, I got my first stock of chicken since March 20. I bought stock for a few days and since my customers have been enquiring, I called my regular buyers and asked them to come and purchase before 9:30 am. Most of us in the business have decided to sell the poultry meat in the wee hours. So far, it has helped because there is no crowding and so it has not attracted any attention.”
Last week, the seller witnessed a minor scuffle outside his shop when police on patrol rained lathis on a customer.
“Poultry is a part of essential items since day one of the lockdown. By forcing our shops shut, the authorities are pushing hundreds of families of sellers and traders into a crisis. Most of us live on daily incomes and we don’t have a lot of saving,” he says.
On March 30, in a letter addressed to the Additional and Principal Secretaries of all states, OP Chaudhary, Joint Secretary, Department of Animal Husbandry & Dairying and Fisheries urged that a “vigorous campaign” should be started “to highlight that chicken and eggs have no role in spreading of coronavirus. Instead, it is a good source for building immunity.”
The letter also pegged losses for poultry industry at Rs 13,000 crore since the lockdown and expressed anguish about poultry farmers burying birds alive due to the clamping on transport during the lockdown.
Following this, another letter from Gujarat Inspector General of Police N Komar to the police departments across the state directed them to allow transportation and sale of the poultry and meat.
However, on April 1, an FIR was registered at the Gotri Road police station accusing a meat seller of violation of section 188 (prohibitory orders) “by opening his mutton shop”.
Chicken shops in most areas have turned to selling the meat without attracting attention.
A prominent meat vendor in the Muslim-dominated Tandalja area, who also supplies frozen cuts to supermarkets selling meat, has downed shutters to all unknown customers.
“The JP Road police booked two persons for trying to open their chicken shops. We have not procured any new stock since the lockdown. We have our own family owned poultry farm and we are bringing stock as per order in a couple of days to deliver to our customers,” he says.
Sachin Nene of the Gujarat Broiler Farmers Coordination Committee says, “Police have stopped harassing our transporters now. We are able to bring poultry into the city since Tuesday. But with a clampdown on the shops selling meat, the value of the birds is almost zero. We have been selling birds for Rs 10 per kg while our cost of raising them is about Rs 75 per bird. In Anand, Kheda and Ahmedabad, the authorities have allowed the shops to open for two days but in Vadodara, the sellers are forced to become bootleggers of meat.”
Commissioner of Police Anupam Singh Gahlaut said that the police is awaiting clearance from the VMC to allow the shops to open.
“It is an unforeseen situation and we have to follow the VMC direction. The question of business losses is secondary right now. The bigger issue is attending to people’s health.”
VMC Commissioner Nalin Upadhyay said that since Rajkot and Surat Municipal Corporations had taken similar decisions to not allow poultry and meat shops to open as a precautionary measure, VMC was also “being cautious”.
“Despite the Centre allowing to run our business, we are facing this situation where we feel like bootleggers and we have to warn our customers to come in time and leave immediately by paying exact cash,” says another chicken vendor in Navapura.
On any regular day, the street, located just a few meters away from the Navapura police station, would be packed with buyers. But on Thursday evening, the only sound in the lane was that of the local butcher community discussing the looming financial crisis.
The vendor, whose shop doesn’t even bear a trace of any slaughtered bird says, “I am discouraging people from waiting at the shop while I dress the birds. Most of my customers place their orders on the phone and I keep their order ready. However, if the suppliers are interrupted, we will be left without sale again.”
About seven kilometers away from Navapura, in Fatehgunj, a bylane housing a minority settlement has about four chicken shops open on Thursday evening — each having a stock of about five birds each.
“We have decided to just allow one or two customers at a time. No police has come by to shut our shops since the beginning of this week. But we are aware that there is misinformation about chicken meat causing coronavirus. We keep our shops open during the morning and evening for a few hours,” says Abdul Razzak, a local community leader.
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