As Manipur’s COVID-19 recovery number increased to over 1,000 cases, the total positive tally also seems to keep pace as it surged rapidly above the 2000 mark. In view of the alarming situation, curfew was imposed in Thoubal district and on Wednesday, an emergency cabinet meeting was called by Chief Minister Biren Singh and statewide total lockdown-curfew was announced for seven days starting 2 pm Thursday, extendable by another seven days. As the curfew announcement went viral, the panic button was pressed and the next morning, people started to line up at oil pumps to buy petrol and diesel and stock them for dry days.
It is unfortunate that people rush to buy petrol in such a situation, said one senior executive, Lamshang Oil Service, Dilip. He told Imphal Free Press that “an order for petrol pumps to remain open for public has not been received yet, but petrol and diesel are in stock and oil tankers come regularly”.
People have been queuing up at petrol pumps as early as six in the morning. And many who came bought loads of it, fearing fuel scarcity amid lockdown.
An official at Malom oil depot also said the state has three months capacity of petrol and diesel and oil tankers are coming daily. People need not fear scarcity of petroleum products in the state.
However, more and more people were seen queuing up to buy fuel. They brought large containers in vehicles to stock up fuel ahead of the lockdown time.
“People came lining up for petrol from 6:00 am as they feared there would be scarcity of petrol as curfew will be imposed,” Bhim Mishra, Manager of Nilo Oil Pump, Langjing, told IFP. He said, “Till now there is no order that oil pumps should be opened during curfew and scarcity of stock as the transportation of oil tankers has not been stopped despite the condition of the highway.”
One Rabi, who is a farmer, standing in a queue and waiting for his turn to buy petrol since 6 in the morning said, “I came to refill so that I can deliver produces to the vegetable vendors… Even though lockdown was relaxed for some time most of the vendors do not have vehicles so I have to help deliver the produce.”
Manipur has been witnessing panic buying through the year, and year after year whenever there is an announcement of shutdown or closure of any kind. People in the state fear oil pumps may run out of fuel amid uncertainty that docked the state.
“Our state is unpredictable and the oil stock might get suddenly replete… so, I have line up to get some petrol to avoid buying from unauthorised local shops,” said one government employee who stood in line to buy petrol at NRL Energy Station, Sagolband.
Dinesh, a rider of Swiggy, told IFP that he fears that during the curfew he might not get petrol and might affect his delivery job. He also said, “The company has not rolled out any order that their delivery service will stop during the curfew so, I have to get my own stock…, also if we buy petrol from other unauthorised shops, the price are high and there is no profit”.
Faced with uncertainty amid the rising spread of COVID-19 and the consequent lockdown, similar concerns are writ large on the people in the state.
Meanwhile, one Michael from Khagempalli Nganapithong said, “The only hope during this pandemic time is government. Though people have started panic buying in some of the retail stores, the government announced necessary steps will be taken up. Retail stores will be made open after considering the situation from time to time and I trust the government.”
He said, “People need not buy in bulk as essential items can be bought at local retail stores. People need not stock up petroleum products”.
One owner of a local store Arunkumar of Kwakeithel told IFP in an interaction that even at the usual wholesale shop, most of the price of grocery items were increased. He said that though government has announced that price hike will be controlled, most of the wholesalers are selling essential items at higher rate.
Arunkumar also said that most of the people who are standing in queue in front of petrol pumps are black marketers. During the curfew, they sell petrol and diesel at higher rates, he said, adding that “minimum percentage of people would be in the queue for essential purpose, maximum people would be petrol black marketers”.
Arun further said curfew is imposed to control the present situation of COVID-19 in the interest of the people and the state, but some local stores and black marketers are selling essential items and others at higher rates. He said that before imposing lockdown or curfew, the government should monitor price hike on essential items.