We can’t live under a lockdown forever: Arvind Kejriwal

Wine shops open on a high note attracting big crowds. Lathi-charge ensues, shops forced to shut. Are the authorities ready for the lockdown end?

LockdownImage Courtesy:economictimes

Hours after they opened on May 4, wine shops in Delhi were shut down when the authorities realised they could not handle the massive crowds that had begun gathering. In some parts of Delhi police had to resort to a lathi-charge to disperse the crowds which kept swelling. While the sale of alcohol contributes hugely to the government’s earning, it is now clear that the city-state’s authorities are ill prepared to handle the end of the national Covid-19 lockdown. The entire city has been marked ‘red’ under the current lockdown.

Delhi’s border at Gurgaon (Haryana,) and Gautambudh Nagar, Noida (Uttar Pradesh), had been sealed by the respective states as Covid-19 cases continued to rise in the NCR region. Another state border Delhi-UP state border at Ghaziabad had seen massive chaos in the first phase of the lockdown as thousands of migrant labourers had begun walking to their villages when faced with joblessness and hunger in the city. 

A liquor fueled chaos was captured by TV news channels and social media handles. For example this story by Mojo Story that shows scenes from East Delhi (near the UP border), “

Visuals from Delhi’s Mayur Vihar where a huge crowd gathered at the #LiquorShops to buy liquor. Police had to resort to lathicharge to disperse the crowd.”

The national Covid19 protocol continues to be enforced in the city, however, The state government, led by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, had announced some ‘relaxations’ even as the Ministry of Home Affairs, extended the national lockdown for another two weeks. On Sunday he had said it was done after a “comprehensive review, and in view of the lockdown measures having led to significant gains in the COVID-19 situation in Delhi.” Most of the prohibitions as stated in the MHA orders are in place but Delhi has now opened, “most of the commercial and private establishments.”

Apart from print and electronic media, IT and IT enabled services, data and call centres, cold storage and warehousing services, these include, “private security and facility management services. Manufacturing units of essential goods, including drugs, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, their raw material and intermediates; production units, which require continuous process, and their supply chain; Jute industry with staggered shifts and social distancing; and manufacturing of IT hardware and manufacturing units of packaging material will continue to be permitted.”

All ‘standalone’ shops, neighbourhood colony shops and shops in residential complexes have been allowed to open, “without any distinction of essential and non-essential.” While malls and markets remain closed shops that sell “essential goods in malls, markets and market complexes are permitted.” This order can also lead to chaos and confusion if the specifics are not spelt out. If a food/ grocery shop in a mall is open, is parking also allowed? Are elevators working? Or will these shops deliver? And what is the definition of essentials being sold in malls? Are electronics, repairs shops, items needed for those working from home essentials? There is no clarity on that yet.

While travel by rail, metro, city buses, cycle rickshaws, auto rickshaws, taxis and cab aggregators continue to be banned, the city government has allowed “services provided by self-employed persons”. This includes all domestic workers such as househelps, cooks, nannies, drivers, electricians, plumbers, lift technicians, all mechanics, sanitation workers etc. There is no mention of how this service force is expected to travel to and from the place of work. There is also no clarity on what are the health and safety norms those who hire these workers should follow, and who will be held responsible for failure to do so. This leaves the workers in a vulnerable situation as well. While it is mandatory to pay full wages during the lockdown period, it is not unknown that not all employers will comply. The workers do not know who they can approach if pay is docked. 

Most househelps live in slums, urban villages, which are densely populated and vulnerable. Multiple apartments have been sealed last month in Noida and Delhi as Covid-19 cases and deaths were reported from there. At the moments the Delhi government  seems to have left the finer points of safety protocols up to the individuals. The CM has said: “We have to learn to live with the virus.” When what Delhi-NCR needs is the government to come up with a long term plan of action.

On May 4, a senior citizen died of a heart attack and she also tested positive of Covid-19. The news sent the management of her west Delhi housing complex in a tizzy and a number of apartments were asked to self quarantine. The residential blocks were sanitized throughout the day and other Covid-19 protocols have also been enforced. It was said that the old lady who died had been visited by a nurse and physiotherapist who came for fixed hours from a hospital nearby. It is being said that there were Covid-19 cases reported from that hospital too.

The Delhi government has allowed the opening of Out Patient Departments (OPDs) and medical clinics shall be permitted to operate in Red, Orange and Green Zones, with social distancing norms and other safety precautions. This is not permitted within the Containment Zones. But there is no clarity of how those needing medical follow ups can reach the hospital without public transport. Ambulances are not available for OPD patients.

The lack of public transport is also likely to hit office goers as the government has allowed “private offices to operate with upto 33% strength as per requirement, with the remaining persons working from home”. All Government offices including Registrars and Sub-Registrars are open “with senior officers of the level of Deputy Secretary and above at full strength, and the remaining staff attending upto 33% as per requirement.”

All this when even the biggest vegetable trade zone in the area is under the Covid19 scanner as well. As reported in the tribune a week ago, a number of 19 Covid cases were reported from vegetable markets in Jhajjar Haryana and were traced to Delhi’s Azadpur Mandi, which is one of the largest mandis in India and supplies produce to scores of districts in the NCR area. 

However, by May 4 evening, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal spoke on the chaos and police lathi-charge at the liquor shops, without calling them liquor shops. In the tone of a school teacher talking to teenage students the CM said he was ‘saddened’ at how the city behaved. “Whose loss is it? Your loss. Imagine if ever a couple of people at those shops had Corona? You can get it too. Your life can be at risk. Your family is at risk. Why do you take such risks,” he asked the citizens of Delhi. 

He reminded everyone that such behaviour was not ‘right’. “Swear you will behave like this again?” he said, hoping that the city was listening, “I am not asking this for myself. I am asking for you, for your life, for your family’s happiness. There is no need to create chaos. The shops are open.”

Of course, he added that if it happens again, the relaxations will be withdrawn. “I will have no option left. I will take strict steps. These relaxations are there because we want Delhi to open. We can’t live under a lockdown forever, can we?” 

He has put the onus on shopkeepers to maintain Covid-19 protocol. Kejriwal has said shops, and residential areas will be sealed if Covid19 protocol is breached

The following activities have been allowed in Delhi (apart from areas sealed under Containment Zones):

● Movement of individuals and vehicles is allowed only for permitted activities, with a maximum of two persons (besides the driver) in four-wheeler vehicles, and with no pillion rider in the case of two- wheelers.

● Industrial establishments in industrial areas/estates, SEZs and EOUs with access control have been permitted.

● The other industrial activities permitted are manufacturing units of essential goods, including drugs, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, their raw material and intermediates; production units, which require continuous process, and their supply chain; manufacturing of IT hardware; jute industry with staggered shifts and social distancing manufacturing units of packaging material.

● In-situ construction (where workers are available on site and no workers are required to be brought in from outside) and construction of renewable energy projects is allowed.

● All standalone (single) shops, neighborhood (colony) shops and shops in residential complexes are permitted to remain open without any distinction of essential and non-essential.

● Shops selling books and stationery etc. will be allowed to remain open but they should ensure proper implementation of social distancing protocols.

● Shops selling liquor, paan, gutka, tobacco etc. are allowed to operate provided they are standalone (single) shops, neighborhood (colony) shops or shops in residential complexes. These shops shall ensure a minimum 6 feet distance among customers and also ensure that not more than 5 persons are present at one time at the shop.

● No organization/ manager of a public place shall allow gathering of 5 or more persons.

● Marriages related gatherings shall ensure social distancing, and the maximum number of guests allowed shall not be more than 50.

● Funeral/ last rites related gatherings shall ensure social distancing, and the maximum numbers allowed shall not be more than 20.

● Spitting in public spaces shall be punishable with fine.

● Consumption of liquor, paan, gutka, tobacco etc. in public places is not allowed.



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