‘Strict’ on paper, reality suggests otherwise
When the death toll due to the highly infectious Delta variant of Covid-19 has been on the rise across the country, the largest weekly livestock market in Nabiganj upazila of Habiganj continue to be arranged without ensuring any health safety rules.
Law enforcers or members of the local administration were nowhere in sight this Saturday when the market, near Dhaka-Sylhet Highway in Janatarbazar area, was teeming with hundreds of traders and buyers who did not wear any face covering, let alone maintain safe social distancing.
Requesting anonymity, several members of law enforcers and upazila administration said that instead of enforcing rules of "strict lockdown", they had been looking the other way, as religious sentiment might be hurt if they took any action against violations at the market where mainly sacrificial animals are being sold ahead of the Eid-ul-Adha.
According to locals, the Janatarbazar livestock market has been operating from Saturday through Monday every week at the same location for a long while.
But on July 1, when the government declared a nationwide "strict lockdown", the upazila administration or the law enforcers did not convey any rules or guidelines on how to operate the market, they also said.
While visiting the market, the handful of people who had face masks were seen moving around with the masks pulled down below their nose or chin. While some of them were trying to put their masks on after sensing a journalist, many others said they always carry their masks in their pockets so they can save themselves from "harassment by law enforcers".
Asking people to maintain social distancing in the market would be quite unrealistic, as its conventional layout has no separate entry and exit ways and markings or signage to direct human traffic.
Taking advantage of the lax monitoring of the administration, the market authorities did not even bother to set up hand washing stations in or outside the market.
Najmul Islam, a retired school teacher and a resident of Janatarbazar area, said from people from different districts have been coming to the market to buy or sell sacrificial animals amid the ongoing "strict lockdown".
But this crowded market can turn into a pandemic hotspot as no one there has been complying with any health safety or social distancing rules, the senior citizen added with dissatisfaction.
Cattle trader Zakir Mia, from the same area, said he brought to the market two cows that he had been rearing for about a year now.
He had to bring the cows to the market despite the lockdown because he needed to sell the cows to pay off loans that he took for buying those.
Asked why he was not wearing a mask, he pointed at others and said, "No one's following the health rules, why should I?"
"We have to buy an animal to sacrifice in the name of Allah every year and that's why, despite an ongoing lockdown, we have to come to the livestock market," said Saddam Mia, a buyer and a resident of the area.
This correspondent could not reach Imdadul Rahman Mukul, president of the Janatarbazar livestock market managing committee, for his comments, as he was in jail in an unrelated legal case.
Asked how such a crowded marketplace was being allowed amid the ongoing nationwide lockdown, Gajnaipur Union Parishad acting chairman Mahbub Ali Nuru said the lockdown circular of the government has no specific instruction on whether or not a sacrificial animal market would be allowed amid lockdown.
When the attention of Nabiganj Upazila Nirbahi Officer Sheikh Mohi Uddin was drawn on the violations at the market, he said they would allow the market to operate till 5:00pm only if health safety rules were completely maintained there.
He also said the government circular on the lockdown did not specify about the sale of sacrificial animals at markets ahead of the upcoming Eid.
The Janatarbazar livestock market, where no health rules are being followed, might turn into a major source of spreading coronavirus in the region, said Mukhlishur Rahman, deputy civil surgeon in Habiganj.
Since this is a dangerous time we are passing right now, an alternative to the traditional markets should be adopted for the sale of sacrificial animals, he also said.