After the deadly second wave in April-May, as Covid-19 cases gradually abated, authorities started lifting restrictions in phases, allowing people to slowly but surely step back into normal lives. But it seems Delhiites are in a hurry. Or, a Covid protocol fatigue has set in.
While authorities keep reiterating almost every day that strict adherence to all Covid safety measures must continue since the possibility of a third wave looms large, the people couldn’t care less.
In markets and malls, buses and Metro trains, food courts and dhabas, a large number of people do not feel the need to maintain physical distancing or wear their mask properly.
Despite the tragic and horrifying dance of death that played out during the second wave, it seems people have taken no lessons.
While the government has allowed resumption of economic activities and people’s movement, the fear of a third wave has also made the authorities deploy enforcement teams on the ground to ensure that public follows the Covid guidelines.
Unless there are police or other enforcement teams/personnel around, people have a casual approach towards following rules despite the fact that Delhi was the worst affected city during the second wave.
With Independence Day approaching, police and intelligence agencies are keeping a strict vigil in crowded and popular markets to prevent any untoward incident. Delhi Police’s beat constables are seen patrolling frequently.
Enforcement teams of Delhi government, district administration, civil defence volunteers and civic agencies also take rounds.
Despite strict surveillance, when TMS visited markets such as Sarojini Nagar, Lajpat Nagat, Chandni Chowk, Chawri Bazar, Karol Bagh, Nehru Place and Sadar Bazar this week for a reality check, it found that rampant violation of Covid rules was the norm.
In all the markets, the crowd started increasing after 12 pm and evening hours saw huge rush. One common feature was that the Covid SOP went for a toss, with both customers and shopkeepers completely ignoring the guidelines.
Several markets like Laxmi Nagar, Lajpat Nagar, Sarojini Nagar and Nangloi had even faced action for flouting of norms and were shut for a few days. Yet, there has been no course correction.
The Sarojini Nagar market remained as crowded as ever, with not a semblance of social distancing.
Shoppers were busy bargaining without bothering about masking up properly or maintaining physical distance.
There were at least a dozen teams of civil defence volunteers and Delhi Police checking the shops along with district administration officials.
They were giving warning to the shopkeepers to follow the guidelines and many were also issued challans. But they were largely focused on the shopkeepers instead of customers who were actually the ones violating the guidelines.
“We have marked boxes in our shops for the customers to ensure social distancing but we cannot take charge of the people outside the shop. But the officials think that it is our duty and responsibility. Many a time, when we ask the customers to maintain distance and wear mask, they call us rude and leave,” said Ashok Randhawa, president, Sarojini Nagar Mini Market Association.
Randhawa said the main reasons for crowding and violations of Covid rules are the unauthorised street vendors.
“We have written to the NDMC many times to remove the street vendors, who put up their stalls in the middle of the lanes, and the ‘body hawkers’, who sell their goods by walking alongside the customers, which often makes women feel unsafe. But, whenever we raise this matter, the officials say their teams don’t find the hawkers when they come for inspection.”
Another shopkeeper said, “The NDMC inspection teams makes loud announcement when they enter the market, giving the vendors and hawkers a chance to shut their stalls and flee. Some get caught and the NDMC seizes all their stuffs, but they come back again the next day. Both police and NDMC officials take money and allow these vendors to put up their stalls.”
In Lajpat Nagar, which was closed for two days for violation of rules, the crowd was less.
Still, no social distancing was visible. Rickshaw pullers and many of shop workers removed their mask as soon as inspection teams left after checking.
In Old Delhi, the 1.3-km redeveloped stretch was less crowded but the narrow lanes of Chandni Chowk, Chawri Bazar, Paranthe Wali Gali, Nayi Sadak etc. were choc-o-block with all caution thrown to the winds.
There’s no check on spitting.
“It is not possible for the shopkeepers to maintain social distancing. We can ensure Covid appropriate behaviour inside our shops, not outside. To check the violations, the civic authorities should remove all illegal encroachments from the markets and outside metro stations,” said Sanjay Bhargava, president, Sarv Vyarapar Mandal, Chandni Chowk.
At Sadar Bazar, too, social distancing seemed as alien idea and barely one in 20 persons was seen wearing a mask.
On July 25, the Delhi government allowed full occupancy in Metro and buses, though there is no permission to travel while standing.
Needless to say, despite the Delhi Metro rail Corporation’s best efforts, the rules are being flouted on Metro premises, inside coaches and outside station, too.
Commuters are often seen standing inside the trains.
The DMRC controls the crowd at stations and issues challans if people flout the norms. But, despite hundreds of CCTV cameras and at times drone management, people still fail to maintain discipline, especially during peak hours, at many stations.
The guidelines are violated most at interchanging stations like Kashmere Gate, Rajiv Chowk and Yamuna Bank.
Outside, too, long queues are often seen with commuters not bothering to keep a safe distance.
“DMRC, from time to time, has clarified the reason for the long queues outside stations and it is once again clarified that though almost the entire fleet of trains is put into operation by the DMRC, yet, due to current guidelines, only sitting is allowed inside the trains, leading to reduced carrying capacity,” said Anuj Dayal, executive director, corporate communication, DMRC.
As per the DMRC, with the entire fleet having about 2,000 coaches in operation, the total seating capacity available is nearly 1 lakh.
But, during peak hours every day, more than 2 lakh passengers come to the Metro stations, said Dayal, explaining the crowding at stations.
He added that to regulate the entry of passengers, it is necessary to restrict the number of gates that are opened.
“Opening more gates will only cause overcrowding and violation of social distancing norms inside the trains and stations. Recently, random incidents have also been reported from across the network during peak hours wherein impatient passengers have tried to barge into the Metro stations breaking the queues, opening/damaging the gates forcibly, manhandling the DMRC and CISF personnel on duty. Such acts not only cause law and order issue but also put lives of co-passengers and Metro officials at riskm besides increasing the risk of Covid spread,” said the DMRC official.
The situation in DTC and cluster buses is no different. Since bus stops are not gated or guarded by security personnel, crowd management is difficult inside buses, especially during morning and evening peak officer hours.
“Many a time, the rules and guidelines of the government stay on paper only and are hard to enforce on ground. In the morning hours, all commuters are in rush to reach their workplace and hence rush and push each other to board the buses. The conductors and marshals try to explain to them the need to observe the rules, but passengers have no patience to listen and this sometimes also leads to manhandling, fight and ruckus,” said Manoj Sharma, president, DTC Karamchari Union.
“In areas like Trilokpuri, Kashmere Gate, Shahdara, Badarpur, New Seemapuri, Nangloi, Dwarka Mor and Nazafgarh, the frequency of buses is less. Hence, passengers do not want to wait for the next to arrive. To solve this problem, the government should increase the number of buses plying in those areas and deploy more marshals in buses,” he added.
Last week, a driver and a conductor were beaten up by passengers in Badarpur area for stopping them from boarding as all the seats were full.
Malls and eateries
Wearing of being confined to their homes for months, Delhiites are visiting malls with a vengeance since their reopening.
Malls like DLF, Ambience Vasant Kunj, V3S in Nirman Vihar and Select City Walk-Saket have been reporting heavy footfalls, especially on holidays. At the food courts, people have to wait up to an hour to get a seat.
“I came today to do some shopping and it seemed like prisoners have been set free after years. There is no distancing and I am seeing such crowd in a mall for the first time,” said Nikita, a government employee.
A security guard at a Vasant Kunj Mall said, “We ask people to wear mask and observe social distancing at entrance and exit points. But in food court, people just forgot that there was a second wave and a third wave is expected.”
Restaurants in the city have made alternative seating arrangements to ensure physical but the same can’t be said for dhabas.
At dhabas and street food stalls in areas like Nauroji Nagar, Sarojini Nagar and other places, people were seen eating while standing next to each other. At the billing counter, too, there was no social distancing.
“If I follow the rule here, I will be standing forever,” said Yogesh at Amritsari Kulcha Corner at Nauroji Nagar.
Challans issued by Delhi Police: (August 4)
823 Mask violation.
61 Social distancing violation.
0 Large public gatherings.
19 Consumption of liquor, paan, gutka, tobacco.
929 Total challans issued.
Total prosecutions during lockdown (April 19-August 4)
1,67,726 Mask violation.
26,444 Social distancing violation.
1,560 Large public gatherings.
1,713 Consumption of liquor, paan, gutka, tobacco.
1,98,275 Total challans issued.