A HUGE rush of migrant workers was seen at Vapi railway station throughout Tuesday as a 10-day voluntary lockdown called by traders’ associations came into effect in the Valsad district. The scenes of people lugging suitcases, satchels and water bottles, thronging the station premises to board trains for their native places were reminiscent of the large-scale migration that had followed a pan-India lockdown in March last year.
Long queues outside grocery and dairy stores were seen across the district, with people flocking to purchase items of daily use even at higher rates. Shops selling essential goods have been allowed to operate between 8 am and 2 pm, even as larger business establishments decided to stay shut for 10 days to break the infection chain in the district, which added 80 cases Monday taking the total count to over 2,200.
On Sunday, District Collector R R Rawal had met representatives of business establishments, chamber of commerce, medical association and Valsad BJP legislator Bharat Patel to deliberate on the coronavirus situation in Valsad and measures that could be adopted to contain the virus. Following a discussion, a proposal to impose a voluntary 10-day lockdown from April 20 was adopted.
As the news of the voluntary lockdown spread through social media, migrant workers employed in the factories of Vapi Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC) and Sarigam GIDC started leaving the city fearing larger restrictions were imminent. Many said they feared the lockdown might spell a loss of livelihood for migrant labourers like last year despite the industrial units in the GIDC estates remaining operational.
On Tuesday, Vapi Station Master S K Dutta told The Indian Express, “The crowds have swelled over Monday and Tuesday at Vapi rail station. The reason might be that people are afraid of a long-term lockdown. However, the crowd was much less as compared to previous year’s mass exodus.”
Sameer Mapra, the president of Vapi Shopkeepers’ Association, urged people not to panic as shops selling essential items and vegetable markets would remain open till 2 pm every day. “Keeping shops open for a few hours will not only benefit the public, but also the traders and the staff employed in such shops. Apart from this, we will observe a complete lockdown every Saturday and Sunday for 10 days,” Mapra said.
Meanwhile, district authorities and representatives of various business establishments also met in Navsari and Dang to replicate a Valsad-like 10-day voluntary lockdown. While no agreement could be reached in Navsari, a voluntary lockdown will be observed between April 21 and 25 in Dang.
Dang district panchayat president Mangal Gavit said, “The business bodies have accepted a proposal of voluntary lockdown due to the rising Covid-19 cases. Dairy shops, groceries and general stores will remain open from 8 am to 2 pm. A complete shutdown will be observed in the afternoon. We are not forcing anybody but have only appealed to the business class.”
The meeting in Dang, which has recorded six fatalities and 377 Covid-19 cases so far, was held in presence of Gavit, district collector N K Damor and BJP MLA Vijay Patel.
In Navsari, the proposal for the lockdown was put before the business community representatives and political leaders, however, following arguments between the shopkeepers’ association and district administrations no decision could be reached.
Navsari Vejalpore Nagar Palika president Jigish Shah said, “No decision was taken as we wanted that like Valsad, 10-day voluntary lockdown should be implemented in Navsari. As of now, we are following complete voluntary lockdown on weekends while shops in the towns remain open till late afternoon.”