KOLKATA: Amid chant of 'Jai Sri Ram', hundreds of devotees assembled in temples in various parts of West Bengal on the occasion of Ram Navami on Thursday, giving a thumbs down to social distancing norms prescribed by the government during the ongoing nationwide lockdown period.
Long queues of devotees were seen outside temples across the state, while the annual Ram Navami rallies were not held this year as the VHP and other saffron groups have called off the programmes due to the coronavirus pandemic.
People in large number were seen scrambling outside temples in various districts and sought blessings from the 'Lord Ram' to get relief from the coronavirus pandemic sooner than later.
Police, in several districts, asked devotees to return to home immediately after offering pujas and instructed them to avoid gatherings and strictly follow social distancing norms, a senior officer said.
Large gatherings were seen outside many temples in Beliaghata and Maniktala area in the eastern metropolis.
The Kolkata police also asked priests of the Ram temples to adhere to social distancing and not to allow the assembling of devotees outside the temples.
The gates of many temples were closed and devotees were asked to stand in queue maintaining safe distance from each other, a senior officer of the city police said.
Meanwhile, several police personnel were attacked and their vehicles were ransacked by locals in Goaltore area of West Midnapore for stopping them to assemble in a tea stall, a senior officer of the district police said.
Two police officials were badly injured and admitted in a hospital, he said. A ration shop owner in Birbhum district was also beaten up by people, after stocks of foodgrains dried up in the outlet.
"We have been standing here since morning and now the ration shop owner is saying that there is no stock. He is telling lie and has piled up stocks in his godown," a local resident alleged.
As the 21-day nationwide lockdown entered its ninth day on Thursday, people in various parts of the state were seen jostling at markets and ration shops to buy essential items, violating the restriction order.
In various parts of the state, especially in districts such as Burdwan, Purulia, Bankura, West Midnapore, Birbhum, people stood outside the shops in close proximity, despite several requests from the local administration to maintain social distancing.
The West Bengal government has announced free ration for over 7.5 crore people in the state till September this year, in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
In Kolkata and other districts, people were seen scrambling at the outlets of the Public Distribution System to stock essential items, defying the social distancing norms.
South Dum Dum Municipality councillor Abhijit Mitra took up an initiative to supply rations and essentials to every household in his locality to ensure that people do not come out on streets.
"I have asked our cadres to reach out to every household and check their needs and supply the essentials. This will ensure people to stay at their homes," Mitra said.
Two COVID-19 cases were reported so far from this municipality area. However, private vehicles were off the roads while all businesses and establishments, barring those dealing with essential commodities, were shut.
Major railway stations, bus terminals and airports wore a deserted look during the ongoing lockdown. Only a few police vehicles and those associated with emergency services were seen on the roads.