Gangtok: Concerned public and shopkeepers of the iconic Lal Bazaar in Sikkim have sealed the entry to Kanchenjunga Shopping Complex and surrounding areas fearing spread of COVID 19. The public has used bamboo poles to seal the road connecting Lal Bazaar and the flyover, to avoid rush of people to the state capital’s devoted Sabzi Mandi since Monday.
Lal Bazaar, which was previously sealed for shopping by the All Sikkim Traders Association and the public since July 23 for five days, was scheduled to reopen on Monday. But now, the public has opted to keep the premises secured, barring vehicle entry, while retail shoppers were allowed to enter on foot on Monday.
The defence to their self-lockdown was presented by Lok Bahadur Pradhan, president of Lal Bazaar Traders’ Association President. “We have taken this decision to avoid spread of COVID-19 in the Lal Bazaar area. The areas connecting Lal Bazaar such as Arithang, Vishal Gaon and Dhobi Dara have all been declared as containment zone. These are also the places from where most of the shoppers tend to come as well as suppliers of local vegetables. Hence, we fear that there is a bigger chance of spread of virus in Lal Bazaar and the same could be emitted from here across Gangtok, as shoppers from different parts tend to come here,” he said.
Another local resident highlighted how the mad rush engulfs as soon as lockdown is lifted. “Even when the state imposed lockdown previously, and adequate relaxation was given and social distancing norms were followed, the same would fail in rush hours like early morning, when shoppers from everywhere, even those running retail shops would come here assembling a mad crowd which becomes difficult to manage,” he said.
Another shop owner said that they are ready to face the loss, to protect themselves and their family. “This self lockdown will affect us economically but we have opted to keep the wholesale open for retailers right at the entry point, where we have barricaded. These retailers will not be differentiated and they can take the stock to different localities of Gangtok, this would ease the tension of virus spread across Gangtok,” he said.
Another glaring concern highlighted by a local woman from Lal Bazaar was the lack of adherence to lockdown norms by many anti-social elements in the Lal Bazaar area. “These drunkards assemble irrespective of the lockdown or not. There are a few inside Lal Bazaar who have been identified as primary and secondary contacts of positive patients from Vishal Gaon and Arithang. What if they test positive later and Lal Bazaar ends up being a hotspot like Rongli and Rangpo, will the administration aid us then. In fact, we are helping the people with this self lockdown,” she said.
Upon hearing of the self-imposed lockdown of Lal Bazaar, Gangtok sub-divisional magistrate Robin Sewa visited the premises. Speaking to the media present, Sewa said, “Having consulted with the district collector of East Sikkim, we have taken this self-lockdown in a positive way, allowing Lal Bazaar to be under self lockdown till August 1. It is a healthy show of the public being concerned and aware of the rapid surge of COVID 19. However, the feeding source of Lal Bazaar, who are the farmers must not be affected by this self lockdown. It will exhibit a failure of the administration when vegetables and fruits as part of essential commodities will not reach Lal Bazaar and in return to the public of Gangtok. The essential commodities must reach the public and the same should not hamper the farmers, that stands as the clause from the administration for the next 4 days.”
However, Sikkim Police begs to differ on the barricading of the roadways, as has been practised in various rural towns across the state. Speaking on the concern, DIG Range Prawin Gurung said, “It is against the law to barricade a road way, as has been carried in rural towns and now in Lal Bazaar since this morning. The same stands against the ruling of the district administration and the Police, if such decisions are taken with prior information to the district authorities and Police, we can act on the same. However, sealing and barricading of localities by the public will be viewed as obstruction in the eyes of the law. So we request the people to maintain their own self lockdown at homes but not at a community level affecting the public.”