What Part of ‘LOCKDOWN’ or ‘CURFEW’ These Ignorant People Don’t UNDERSTAND?
Mangaluru: The definition of the Word ‘CURFEW’ in the dictionary means “a regulation requiring people to remain indoors between specified hours, typically at night or day-time. But the kind of ‘CURFEW’ that we are seeing in Dakshina Kannada/Mangaluru simply doesn’t match the definition. Then why even did our Netas, or officials from the District Administration or Mangaluru City Corporation come up with the term “WEEKEND CURFEW”, when 90% of the ignorant people in this district and Mangaluru don’t even UNDERSTAND what ‘Curfew’ or ‘Lockdown’ is?
The ‘Weekend Curfew’ a couple of days back saw a large number of people and vehicles on streets, and there were no officials nor cops to crack down on them and penalize them. People were seen in big numbers at the Mangaluru central Railway station arriving from out of town, including nearly 50 migrants from Jharkhand who had gathered in a group, and not wearing masks- and the best part is that they didn’t even know Mangaluru was under weekend Curfew and meaning of Weekend Curfew. With only Nandini booth parlours which were allowed to open, and were only permitted to sell Nandini products, including milk, but also allowed their customers to buy snacks, tea/coffee and consume there, including smoking. A few of Nandini Milk Parlours were even selling cigarettes, gutka, and other non-essential items-how about that? A total violation by the government authorized shops?
And following the two-day weekend curfew, with the beginning of weekday Lockdown starting on Monday turned into Gridlock, with City Streets choked with Traffic. Seemed like Lockdown was lifted in Mangaluru, looking at the huge traffic on Highways and City streets, and also people crowded at meat and vegetable shops, and also non-essential shops. Heavy traffic congestion is seen in most parts of the city, like Hampankatta Junction, Light House Hill Road, Nanthoor Circle, Kankanady Junction, K S Rao Road, among other prominent locations. And there were hardly any traffic cops to control the traffic snarls between 7 am to 2 pm- and even after allowed lockdown timings. People and traffic were seen past 2 pm until night.
One more reason for traffic jams was due to the major roads in the City being dug up for road widening or drainage work, which has led to a nightmare, both for commuters and motorists. In spite of the spike in Covid-19 cases in Dakshina Kannada/Mangaluru, for which the government and district administration have enforced lockdown, unfortunately, the City streets have already started flooding with traffic. Citizens took to Twitter highlighting the issue, giving us a glimpse of the situation on the ground. People make a beeline right from 7 am till 2 pm at supermarkets, medical shops, fruit and vegetable shops, milk booths etc. Hurried efforts to stock essentials saw quite a few traffic jams and long queues in the city since the last few days.
Only Police Check Posts, But No Cops?
Even though the City traffic Police personnel were well equipped to instantly enforce the lockdown, with barricades set up on main roads, quite a few motorists were seen violating the rules by traveling through inner roads or where cops’ presence is absent after 2 pm. With many people still on the roads, the barricades led to some traffic jams as people tried to rush back home before 2 pm. The seven-hour relaxation period appears to have become counter-productive to the very objective of lockdown — to arrest the spread and bring down the incidence of Covid-19. With several vehicles hitting the road, traffic almost comes to a standstill on streets near Kankanady market, Kadri Market, Jyothi-Balmatta road, Bendoorwell-Kankanady road, Highway between Nanthur and KPT, and other points.
Every day from 6 am to 2 pm, the city bursts into an economic and social activity, compressing and capturing the entire day’s activity in a short span of seven hours of shopping spree. While traders and vendors are happy that economic activity is running uninterrupted in those seven hours, experts are worried about undisciplined crowds spilling out onto the roads without wearing masks or maintaining social distance, and jammed traffic. Certain bazaar areas, including Market Road, are seen brimming with people in the 7-hour phase, so much so that the traffic in these areas takes a long time to clear after the lockdown hours come into force at 2 pm.
Only certain timings should be allowed for the Zomato and Swiggy food delivery services like 11 am to 3 pm – and in the evening from 6 pm-10 pm. When common and poor people can stay without food being brought to their doorsteps, why can’t the City’s rich and moderate people? It is learnt that a bunch of these Zomato and Swiggy delivery boys, other than delivering food, are also seen delivering other items from non-essential shops and also meat and grocery shops Illegally- Cops should check on this activity that has been going on in recent days.
With a large number of street hawkers and vendors who do business on the roads, people throng to make purchases. Most of the rush is seen only between 9 am and 1 pm, since people wake up late, unlike earlier when the lockdown shopping time was 6 am to 10 am. Police say that they have been effectively enforcing Covid-19 appropriate behaviour during the seven-hour window, but the situation on the ground shows a different picture. They say that the first lockdown in 2020 was completely different from the situation now. Nonetheless, they are trying to inculcate discipline in crowds. “Anyone who violates rules is booked and action taken. After the relaxation period is completed, all officers are distributed to checkpoints and patrolling.” said police commissioner N Shashi Kumar. But if you look at a few police check posts, you will find no cops present?
A few police officials recall that the lockdown in 2020 when except for establishments selling groceries, vegetables, and a few other essentials, others used to be closed and people were allowed to travel only within a 2 km radius for any purchase. “The police department which was at the forefront in enforcing the lockdown, did it very strictly, But not anymore,” said one police constable posted at Nanthur junction check post. Few citizens have expressed that allowing all commercial activity in the seven hours visibly increases chances of overcrowding and some restrictions need to be in place to spread out the crowds.“The district admin or MCC must make some changes to these rules. Either they must stagger the timings of operation — starting with milk and groceries during early morning hours, and then open up others like banks, textile shops, Cyber shops, Mobile phones shops, etc. Commercial establishments can open from 10 am onwards. So, on any given street, there will only be a few commercial establishments open.
Few others said that uninterrupted travel in the seven-hour open period must be discouraged and travel for essential purposes alone must be allowed as it was in 2020. “There are a couple of super-spreading areas we noticed in both waves —Supermarkets and restaurants. Both these are crowd pullers and bring in public from across the city. Some restrictions must be there like travel only within 5 km radius etc to ensure unnecessary vehicular traffic is not attracted. Such initiatives are crucial to contain the surge. One more important step is to involve citizens in all containment activities. Ward-level information dissemination is crucial to make the best use of such restrictions,” said a college professor.
In order to ease the crowds at shopping places and also to ease heavy traffic on streets, we need to Segregate economic activity into essential and non-essential and designate different times for both. Allow essential establishments to operate all day or in staggered timings in the morning, followed by non-essential ones in mid-day. Extend the relaxation period up to 10 hours for alternate days to spread the crowds coming in. Deploy volunteers apart from police — roping in NGO, NSS, NCC volunteers for pandemic management. A relaxation of two more hours will put both vendors and customers at less risk as crowding won’t happen and also traffic chaos.
Now, the larger question is whether we can make this liveable Mangaluru the ‘new normal’ and if this will become permanent. Yes, the new normal will remain as long as COVID is around us. However, it can become permanent only if lessons are learnt from this pandemic and specific interventions introduced. We need to reduce the need to travel: This can include interventions like work-from-home and study-from-home on some days, staggered and flexible work hours, more online shopping and home-delivery options, etc. Reduce travel distances. It will be a pity if we don’t learn our lessons even from a pandemic. It is also important to understand that there is no silver bullet.