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Cachar administration's COVID-control measures are "anti-poor" could disrupt rural economy, feels experts

The number of COVID positive cases in the district is on the rise and unprecedented times require unprecedented measures. Recently the Cachar District Administration issued multiple orders as measures to restrict the further outbreak of coronavirus in Cachar. One such order stated that all weekly/biweekly/evening markets in the district should remain shut from July 10 to July 19.

The order stated that in the rural areas there are, “a good number of weekly, biweekly, evening bazaars and haats” where a huge number of people gather. The order added that many of the traders in those markets travel from neighbouring villages and the administration has observed that proper social distancing is not maintained in those markets and that is why they have decided to order the closure of such markets till July 19.

Prior to that on July 6, another such order passed by Silchar Municipality Board stated that only permanent shops/stalls in Gopalganj, New Market and Fatak Bazaar area will be allowed to operate. This meant thelas and road-side vendors will no longer be able to sell items in those busy market.

Dudhpatil Gaon Panchayat, Ranajit Sarkar who was recently complimented by Prime Minister Narendra Modi while interacting over a video conference said that the poor will suffer because of this order from the deputy commissioner. The Gaon Panchayats were complimented by the Prime Minister for simplifying Social Distancing and practicing it as “Do Gaz Doori”. Sarkar added, “Vendors in the rural areas cannot afford to travel all the way to the town and sell their items. Because of this decision of the administration, those vendors will now remain hungry, the vegetables and fishes will get rotten.”

He countered the deputy commissioner’s argument that rural markets are unorganised and crowded, “Instead, in the rural markets people of the village sell items farmed in their own house to buyers who are residents of the same village itself. However, in the markets (in town), people travel from all over to sell and buy items,” he added.

The question, therefore, arises that if Fatak Bazaar, Sanjay Market, and other crowded bazaars located in congested areas in the town can operate why can’t the rural ones do so. “If all the markets are left operational in Silchar from Monday to Friday where people can go and shop whatever they need, why are the ones in villages kept shut despite them having a lower density of population,” asked Sushmita Dev.

She added, “The deputy commissioner could have instead shut all the evening bazaars everywhere and let the weekly and biweekly ones function at least. By shutting all weekly, bi-weekly – basically all rural markets and letting everything in the town remain open, the administration will derail the rural economy.”

However, she said that she supports the administration’s decision to impose odd-even rule in the district as she believes that would help in decongesting vehicular traffic. “A rule like this will help us develop the habit of carpooling in the society. If my car is not allowed to ply today, I can always borrow the car of my neighbour,” she added.

Rajdeep Goala, MLA from Lakhipur added that while it is important to ensure decongestion considering the rise in the number of COVID positive cases and the increase in mortality rate, the deputy commissioner must also think about the well being of people in the rural areas. “Most of the vendors who sell vegetables or fish or meat in the evening or weekly Bazaars in the rural part of the district are based on daily wages. Shutting them all will definitely impact them economically,” asserted Goala.

The MLA pointed out that the decision to leave Fatak Bazaar operational and shut all weekly, biweekly, and evening haats, which are mostly in rural parts is discrimination. “Respected deputy commissioner must relook at the order,” he said.

General Secretary of CPI(M) Cachar, Dulal Mitra who is also a senior advocate opined that instead of shutting the markets, the administration should have tried to educate and aware the people on those communities about social distancing. If necessary, Mitra feels, that a few police officials could have been deployed to keep an eye on social distancing. “There is no question that the markets in town are far more crowded than the weekly, biweekly and evening ones in villages. Now, after this order, people in the villages will also go to the town to both sell and buy items, so that will add on to the congestion,” opined Mitra.

He added that the order to shut weekly, biweekly and evening haats will disrupt the rural economy, the crop will get rotten and the poor will suffer. “The measures are anti-poor,” he said.

The deputy speaker of Assam, Aminul Haque Laskar shared he has taken note of all the grievances and it is true that the farmers are not able to sell produced goods at the market. But he opined that it is also important for the administration to take some stringent measures in order to save lives. However, on the issue of discrimination, where markets in villages are asked to remain shut while the ones in towns can operate from Monday to Friday, the Sonai MLA said, “I will talk to the deputy commissioner about this.”

Cachar district administration, much like the state government has played a dynamic role in controlling the spread of COVID19 in the community. Many measures were imposed and then reformed considering the situation. It remains to be seen if Keerthi Jalli and her administration considers the plight of people dependent on rural economy and relax the order that is in effect till July 19.

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