Delhi in Lockdown: What You Can and Can’t Do

Markets and services will be shut down, but delivery of essential services will continue.

New Delhi: The lockdown of Delhi to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus began at 6 am on Monday and is scheduled to until midnight on March 31. While it involves shutting down of public transport, sealing borders and closure of shops, markets and all commercial centres, there was some confusion on the first day as it made exemptions for the continuation of essential services and people engaged in delivering them.

The Delhi Police, which is tasked with ensuring that people do not venture out unnecessarily, set up barricades at borders and many places across the city. People were checked at random and asked for their identity cards and the reason for travel. In several market places, a large number of people could be seen making purchases at general grocery or chemist stores, which have been allowed to remain open.

But apart from availing these services, many also ventured out to get their gadgets repaired, accessing banking services or just to meet relatives – all of which fall do not strictly meet the exemption criteria.

This even prompted Prime Minister Narendra Modi to tweet that some people were still not taking the lockdown seriously and the directions should be taken seriously.

Markets locked down

In Delhi, 3,000 retail markets and 150 wholesale markets have been closed. However, wholesale markets selling vegetables, poultry and meat have been exempted, as they fall under the essential services.

Announcing the lockdown on Sunday, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal had said that “extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures”, urging people in the city to “join the fight against COVID-19”. He had hoped that people would support it “to protect your families”.

Delhi Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal had also asked people not to step out unless it is “absolutely necessary”.

Essential services that are exempted from lockdown

According to the government notification that placed restrictions on movement during the lockdown, an exemption has been made for offices and personnel charged with law and order and magisterial duties, police, health, fire, prisons, fair price shops (public distribution system), electricity, water, municipal services, Delhi legislative assembly, pay and accounts office, and print and electronic media.

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Those engaged in cashier/teller operations of banks (including ATMs), telecom, internet and postal services, e-commerce of all essential goods including food, pharmaceutical and medical equipment, delivery and sale of food items, groceries (fruit/vegetables/milk/bakery items, meat, fish, etc), milk plants and general provision stores, restaurants, chemists and pharmacies, petrol pumps, LPG/oil agencies and their godowns and transport have also been allowed to work.

The exhaustive exemption list also allows people engaged in the production or transport of animal fodder, manufacturing, processing, transportation, distribution, storage, trade/commerce and logistics related to services, establishments and commodities required for delivery of the services to continue working.

During the lockdown, no cabs, taxis or auto-rickshaws will be allowed to operate in the national capital. Private vehicles will also be required to remain off roads. The essential services that would remain open include shops selling grocery, fruit and vegetables, milk, cooking gas supplies, telecom services, home-delivery of food, banks and ATMs, hospitals and pharmacies. A quarter of the Delhi Transport Corporation’s buses will also ply. Only people engaged in the delivery of essential services will be allowed to use private transport.

Incidentally, the exhaustive nature of these exempted items is what led to a large number of people travelling on roads and present at business places on Monday.

Metro trains parked at a yard in Timarpur, New Delhi, March 23, 2020. Photo: PTI

Why are exempted categories important?

Essential goods like milk, bread, eggs and other grocery items remained available in Delhi on Monday. In many places, where the retail outlets ran out of milk after a few hours, the shopowners were heard assuring people that there was no need for panic. “We have been assured more supply at around 4 pm. But there may be restrictions on how long we are able to operate, so please come and buy before 7 pm,” they said.

A grocery store owner of Shahdara, Rohit Gupta, said the issue now is that the retail stores have started running dry as people have stocked up goods that would last for over a month during the past four-five days. “We have placed fresh orders with suppliers whose outlets are located around the city and they have started coming in.”

Gupta added that while there are enough stocks to last around a month’s time, problems will arise if the lockdown extends beyond that.

‘Need to open wholesale markets soon’

Confederation of All India Traders general secretary Praveen Khandelwal told The Wire that there is an urgent need for the government to hold talks with the wholesaler dealers to ensure uninterrupted supply of general groceries to people. “The retailers normally have stocks of 5-7 days but most of these have been purchased and now they are seeking replenishment from the stockists. The wholesalers have enough stocks to last the city between 17 days to a month.”

But, he said, now discussions were needed to resume supplies from them so that there is no dearth of goods in retail. “We will be seeking meetings with the L-G and CM in this regard and would suggest that opening wholesale markets for at least a couple of hours in a day be considered after a few days. This should be accompanied by necessary health precautions.”

‘Government in touch with police to prevent harassment’

Delhi Dialogue and Development Commission vice-chairman Jasmine Shah, responding to the concerns of the trading community and the need to keep the supply channels fluid, said the situation is being monitored on a regular basis. “Decisions are being taken in a flexible manner to deal with the situation,” said Shah.

Speaking about the issue of a number of people venturing out on the streets, thereby defeating the very purpose of the lockdown, he said the police will prevent this. The cops will also allow those engaged in the sale or transport of essential goods and services to continue their work, he said.

Asked if some special identity cards can be issued to prevent arguments at checkposts and disruption, he said, the logistics of this are huge but necessary steps will be taken.

At the borders too, Shah said only those vehicles are being allowed entry who fit the requirement laid down in the notification. “We are in regular contact with the police and are monitoring the situation.”

Also Read: COVID-19’s Economic Blow will be Unprecedented. India Must Rise to the Challenge.

All public transport, except 25 per cent DTC fleet, stops functioning

Meanwhile, in keeping with the restrictions on public transport, the Delhi Metro’s services will be suspended until March 31. All private buses, taxis, autorickshaws, rickshaws and e-rickshaws will also not ply.

To ensure that essential services can function, and those engaged in them are able to travel, 25% of the Delhi Transport Corporation’s buses will continue to function. But the LG has made it certain that these buses are to be used only by those working in services considered essential.

Buses are seen parked at the Indraprastha Cluster Bus Depot after lockdown in New Delhi, March 23, 2020. Photo: PTI/Arun Sharma

Police appeals to people to stay indoors, warns of legal action against violators

The Delhi police, meanwhile, also appealed that people stay home. Senior officers tweeted that those violating the guidelines of the lockdown may face legal action.

The police also made regular announcements about the lockdown from their vehicles in the districts. Some officers also tweeted images of these.