COVID-19 outbreak: Economic activity grinds to a halt in Chhattisgarh's Dhamtari

Sales of forest produce, vegetables and fruits in the district dropped after the janata curfew 

By Purushottam Thakur
Published: Thursday 26 March 2020
The weekly haat or market — the lifeline of the tribal economy in Dhamtari — shut down on March 22 Photo: Purushottam Thakur

Daily life in Chhatisgarh’s Dhamtari district ground to a halt after the announcement of the janata (people’s) curfew and the subsequent nationwide lockdown called by the Union government to control the spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

The weekly haat or market — the lifeline of the tribal economy in Dhamtari — shut down on March 22, 2020.

Dhamtari is a crucial producer of lac, a scarlet resin secreted by an insect that lives on trees.

Tamarind, along with lac, is sold in the weekly markets. Tribals in the area depend on the sale of these products for their livelihood.

The produce would go to waste if tribals were unable to sell it and they would soon stop collecting it altogether, if they see long-term financial losses, said Dilawar Rokadiya, a trader of forest goods in Dhamtari.

“We have experienced the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak for the past two months since export was stopped,” Rokadiya said.

The homes of several tribals as well as godowns are now filled with forest produce. Lac processing centres also closed down after an order from the district administration.

Labourers who approached the labour market at the district’s Ghadichowk, were told to not come any longer from March 23.

Suman, a fruit vendor, experienced a sharp decline in her sales after the lockdown Photo: Purushottam Thakur

Approximately 15,000 labourers would earlier come to Dhamtari to earn daily wages in the 200 rice mills, shops and construction areas across the district.

“There is no work since the last two days but we have food, thanks to the Re 1 per kilogramme rice provided by the government,” said Manikram Nirmalkar, a washerman by profession.

Rajkumar Sen, a labourer, said he would fall into debt if he did not find work soon.

Another fallout from the pandemic is the district’s agricultural output.

The closing of the weekly market meant nobody would buy agricultural produce from the district’s 158 villages, according to Ramji Biashnav, a member of the district’s agriculture product marketing committee.

“Vegetables and fruits worth roughly Rs 50 lakh are sold here every day,” he said.

Essential services — including vegetable markets — were exempt from the lockdown.

The state administration, however, stopped public transport keeping social distancing rules in mind.

Fewer customers coming to buy essentials, as a result, means vendors are now forced to lower their profit margins and decrease the prices of fruits and vegetables.

“Fewer customers are now coming so the sale of vegetables has also decreased,” said Udayaram Sahu, a vegetable vendor.

Suman, a fruit seller, said her business was badly affected after the lockdown.

“I used to earn Rs 3,000-4,000 every day. But after the lockdown, I get around Rs 1,000, sometimes even lesser,” she said.

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