Kolkata: On the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic scare and eve of Janta Curfew, a visit to pharmacists, departmental stores and local shops at many places of Kolkata has revealed that the city has been gripped by a fear psychosis. The local bazaars (Taltala, Beniapukur and Mullick Bazaar) too, earlier in the day encountered a similar scene, where the anxious public was seen making random purchases, simply to build their stock of staples.
While the price of the staples didn’t steep much into one’s pocket, the price of masks (pollution and regular cloth ones) and sanitizer were over-priced, despite the government constantly warning sellers of not increasing the price.
In one of the pharmacy shops near Elliot Road, was found selling pollution masks for INR 250 while the regular cloth mask which would earlier cost only Rs 10, was being sold at Rs 70. While another shop was selling surgical masks at Rs 30. Most of these pharmacies are now selling local sanitizers priced anything between Rs 190 to 800.
Speaking to eNewsroom, one of the shopkeepers who didn’t disclose his name said, “These items are in-demand, we are ourselves purchasing at rates higher than the MRP (Maximum Retail Price), so we are being forced to sell them at a higher rate. The demand is high and supply is less.” He even hinted at many selling branded sanitizers at a much higher rate. For instance, a 250 ml bottle of Himalaya sanitizer which normally comes at the MRP of Rs 175 was being sold at 250, no receipt is being provided for the same.
There is a mad rush but people are not being able to buy these life-saving hygiene maintenance products.
Sensing this form of black marketing by retailers and sellers, two separate Kolkata-based organisations began on finding solutions to these problems, which has been on for the past one week. “We understood that there would be a sudden rise in demand for sanitizers once India starts getting confirmed cases of COVID-19. The mad rush began with Kolkata getting its first COVID-19 victim. The sellers soon began to hoard stocks, create a crunch-like situation and then sell the same stuff at a higher rate,” informed Tanmay Bose, Secretary, Bangla Sanskriti Mancha (BSM), an organisation formed by a group of apolitical individuals from different walks of life.
After a meeting, BSM, with the help of students from the Indian Association for Cultivation of Science began making sanitizers using Isopropyl Alcohol, a key ingredient for the sanitizer. “We crowdfunded for this initiative and have produced quite many sanitizers with the help of the students from IACS. The produced sanitizers are now being sent to Birbhum, Malda, Murshidabad, 24 Parganas (North and South), where we will be distributing them free of cost to the poor,” informed Ghosh. BSM on Friday had distributed free sanitizers near 8B stand in Jadavpur area and are slotted to do a free sanitizer distribution at Park Circus protest site on Monday.
Similarly, Indian Pluralism Foundation (IPF), a non-governmental organisation, which primarily works toward hosting inter-faith dialogues and peace-building among various religious groups, in Kolkata, has also been doing its bit to counter this crisis. “We are producing reusable cloth masks for the poor, who can’t afford to shell out money simply to take precautions. We realised this and also the fact that certain shopkeepers are taking advantage of this pandemic to Blackmarket sanitizers and masks. Hence, IPF through this initiative is distributing these facemasks free of cost. People can connect with us on 9051312323 to place requests,” informed Ovais Aslam, founder of IPF.
Explaining about the mask being distributed by his organisation Aslam said, “Our masks are for precautionary measures. They are not to be worn by people affected by COVID-19. Also, we need to stress upon the fact that it’s washing the hands that is more important than wearing a mask. We have been distributing soaps like Dettol and Lifebuoy to the poor in Tiljala and other areas.”