Tight lockdown norms keep residents of Chennai indoors

Waking up on Sunday, Chennai said, ‘I feel so deja-vu’ as it once again stared at the ‘not-to-do’ list handeddown by corporation authorities
Rajiv Gandhi IT corridor on OMR wears a deserted look on Sunday. (Photo | Ashwin Prasath, EPS)
Rajiv Gandhi IT corridor on OMR wears a deserted look on Sunday. (Photo | Ashwin Prasath, EPS)

CHENNAI:  The State capital went into ‘silent mode’ once again on Sunday, with only the loud sirens of ambulances piercing the silence, indicating a health emergency. The lockdown, to contain the spread of Covid-19, forced most people to stay indoors, not out of fear of the reinvigorated virus, but out of fear of the penalty of venturing outdoors.

A day earlier, they thronged markets to ensure they had enough supplies to get through the lockdown. The city roads, manned by 7,000 police personnel at 200 checkpoints, wore a deserted look, bringing back memories of last year.

Police officers at two checkpoints told Express that those who ventured out did so to buy medicines and food. “Experience from the previous lockdowns taught people how to evade the police,” an officer quipped. Interior roads leading to main roads were blocked to restrict vehicular movement, while arterial roads, including Poonamalle High Road, ECR, and OMR, were kept open. 

City shuts its door on virus

Talking to reporters after inspecting a checkpoint at Arumbakkam, Greater Chennai Police Commissioner Mahesh Kumar Aggarwal said that till noon 60 vehicles were confiscated. “They would be returned depending on the documents owners produce,” he said. The curbs, yet again exemplified the distinction between wants and needs. Essential services, including Amma Canteens, eateries and pharmacies, continued to function with restrictions.

At various junctions, free food was distributed to the destitute, who formed beelines for it. Among the other places where people gathered and violated the safety protocol were at wedding halls near Murug an Templ e in Vadapalani. Senior Corporation officials said no major violations were reported in the city, as residents were largely cooperative. Corporation teams headed by Commissioner G Prakash and leaders of Field Support Teams (FST) were at each of the 15 zones.

Migrant workers waiting outside Chennai Central Station for trains
Migrant workers waiting outside Chennai Central Station for trains

These teams comprise IAS officers, district revenue officials, police personnel, and health officials. “We found no major violations. Residents were cooperative,” said a senior corporation official. Besides pharmacies, only restaurants were open, to offer takeaway services between 6 and 10 am, 12 and 3 pm, and 6 and 9 pm. Officials shut and sealed some shops and wedding halls where the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) were not followed. In Adyar, the Kanchi Mahaswamy Anantha Mandapam marriage hall was sealed for violation of the guidelines.

The owners were fined Rs 10,000 under Section 76 (2) of the Tamil Nadu Public Health Act, 1939. But this was a stray incident, said officials. A corporation official in Tondiarpet zone said, “All establishments that we visited were closed. Those that were allowed to function had been following Covid-19 guidelines.” “We could see some of seriousness among shopkeepers to fight the virus.

It could be due to the fines or the rising number of cases.” While the city was under complete lockdown, authorised political parties ’ and Independent candidates’ agents were allowed to visit counting centres if they wore valid identification cards issued by Returning Officers or the District Election Officer. The rule also applied to the of ficials on duty at the counting centres.

Rail passengers demand pre-paid taxis, autos
Railway passengers demanded that the Railways and State government set up temporary pre-paid counters for call taxis and auto-rickshaws amid the lockdown. On Sunday, thousands of passengers suffered as cab and autorickshaw drivers refused to ferry them home, citing the lockdown, even though the government had permitted transportation to and from railway stations.

The drivers were extra cautious due to the heavy deployment of police personnel, and as a result, many passengers who reached stations as early as 6 am were forced to spend several hours waiting. S Yellappan, of Madurai, said he could not get an auto or taxi to go to Thuraipakkam though he was willing to pay more than usual. “Pandian Express reached around 6 am. But no one was willing to give me a ride from the station. I finally asked my family to get a vehicle from our neighbour, and left the station around 10.45 am.” Meanwhile, the railways cancelled the Chennai Egmore - Puducherry MEMU special that starts from Egmore at 6.35 am and the one that starts at 3.35 pm from Puducherry on May 2.

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The New Indian Express