West Bengal announces relaxations for standalone shops in various zones; liquor outlets reopen as people flout social distancing norms

Kolkata: The West Bengal government announced a series of relaxations on Monday in various coronavirus zones, even as reopening of liquor shops witnessed tipplers giving a thumbs down to the social distancing.

The state reported 11 deaths in the last 24 hours, pushing the death toll to 61, and the number of cases climbed to 1,259, Chief Secretary Rajiva Sinha said.

Representational image. AP

Home Secretary Alapan Bandopadhyay announced that the state had added 72 more places to the list of containment zones, taking the total number of such areas in the state to 516.

The government has also launched a mobile app on its official website, ‘Egiye Bangla’, for people from other states who are stranded in West Bengal due to the lockdown and want to return to their native places.

Sinha said though the Centre had extended the lockdown by two weeks, it had given liberty to the state governments to allow certain activities after assessing the ground situation.

“We are of the opinion that these relaxations allowed by the Union government will dilute lockdown, but we would abide by it,” Sinha said, adding: “We want a balance between life and livelihood.”

“The state government feels that the activities which the central government has asked to recommence will be beneficial for the economy and wages can be paid to workers and employees, but the way the relaxations are being given, it is diluting the lockdown,” he said.

Sinha said mining activities would be started in green and orange zones, and standalone shops in all the zones would be allowed to open from 10 am to 6 pm, except in the containment areas.

Clarifying that those shops that are not situated within shopping malls or market complexes would be considered as standalone shops, Sinha said neighbourhood shops, sweetmeat shops, those selling beetle leaves, and tea could open, but people would have to carry the tea back home where they can consume it.

Appealing to the private operators to run the buses in intra-district routes, the chief secretary said intra-district private bus services had been allowed with a maximum of 20 passengers in green zones.

“I have been told that in many places in green zones, buses are not operating. I would appeal to them to start services as government buses are busy in other duties,” he said.

Construction activities in rural and urban areas were also allowed with workers being put up at the site, he said.

Noting that the private offices would be allowed to operate from 10 am to 6 pm with 25 percent staff strength outside containment zones, Sinha said all the guidelines had to be followed as a violation of the guidelines would call for legal action under the Disaster Management Act.

“Persons willing to go back to their native states can apply online through this ‘Exit app’ and permission for the same will be practically automatic and extremely easy,” Bandopadhyay said.

Reacting to the state government’s order on relaxations, several traders’ bodies welcomed the decision but wondered whether it would be business as usual.

The bus operators, however, have rejected the proposal of running busses with just 20 passengers as “financially unviable”.

Bus Minibus Coordination Committee general secretary Rahul Chatterjee said it was not at all viable to run buses with only 20 passengers since the amount earned from ticket sales would not be enough for meeting fuel expenses.

“We urge the government to requisition the buses as is done during elections for movement of polling personnel and security forces. The government can then run the buses on payment of a daily fee to the owners,” he said.

Meanwhile, standalone liquor shops were reopened in green, orange and red zones, except in containment areas, after 42 days since the beginning of lockdown in the state on 23 March, but the police had a hard time in several areas of the city in ensuring tipplers adhere to social distancing norms.

Customers were seen waiting in queues outside liquor shops. But the moment the shops opened the shutters, they started elbowing each other in many places like Dumdum and parts of Kolkata.

The police had to rush to these shops to maintain law and order and some of these shops were shut within an hour.

“Police had to come to maintain law and order in front of the shop and ultimately closed it down. Several other shops were also shut down by them,” an official said.

The liquor shop will operate from noon to 7 pm as per the latest government order, which also stated about the do’s and don’ts, both for the customers and the shopkeepers.

In the past week, a total of 4,042 people have been arrested for violating lockdown in the city and 684 cars have been seized.

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