States scrambled to make the full use of the Centre’s green light on lifting lockdown restrictions but opted for amber in inter-state transport, as the number of Covid-19 positive cases nearly touched the 100,000-mark.
Delhi implemented most of the demands made to the Centre in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 14 May. CM Arvind Kejriwal said shops would open on odd-even days and, within Delhi, buses would run, subject to social distancing. He said all government and private offices can open with full attendance and private vehicles, cabs, and e-rickshaws can operate, subject to social distancing restrictions.
However, Delhi’s border with Uttar Pradesh and Haryana remained closed for the most part. UP CM Yogi Adityanath also said inter-state and inter-district travel should not be permitted for now. Traffic coming from Delhi towards Noida moved at snail’s pace as UP allowed only vehicles with e-pass from the Noida District Magistrate to enter.
Similarly, Delhi’s border with Haryana, leading to industrial hubs like Manesar and urban complexes like Gurugram, remained snarled after Haryana, with great reluctance, on order from the High Court, limited inter-state movement of vehicles to those engaged in essential services.
Those conditions have not been lifted so far. Long queues of vehicles were seen at check posts as many people wanting to attend offices arrived at the borders early on Monday.
The vehicular queues went up to over a kilometer at many places, as police checked passes and identity cards of travellers.
Similar scenes were witnessed at the Delhi-Gurugram borders. The national capital also witnessed traffic jams near big office hubs after a long time.
Maharashtra, one of the worst hit states, said it was making no changes, and would take advantage of the Centre’s offer of relaxation later. In some states, however, the home ministry’s revised guidelines were implemented fully. State-run road transport was resumed in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala (where inter-state and inter-district bus services remain suspended). In these states, shops, businesses and offices, including barber shops, were allowed to open. Karnataka even allowed salons and spas to operate, but retained restrictions on movement of people from other states.
“We have decided to restrict the entry of people from Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu till May 31,” said Karnataka CM B S Yediyurappa. Tamil Nadu ordered limited relaxations — for transport, shops, and other establishments — but only in the districts where few or no Covid-19 cases had been reported.
Puducherry said it would open liquor shops from Tuesday. Normal life resumed in districts where no cases have been reported.
However, inter-state movement of buses continued to be a contentious issue, with states turning cautious. While Andhra Pradesh allowed inter-state transport, the Telangana CM K Chandrasekhar Rao held back from allowing operation of inter-state buses in the light of the high rate of infections in the border states.
This service is unlikely in the near future. Shops and businesses were already allowed to function with due precautions in all towns. In Hyderabad, however, only stand-alone shops selling electrical items, stationery, sanitaryware, and building materials, besides liquor stores, were allowed to open.
Construction activity was already permitted in the city outside the containment zones.
Punjab, where the pandemic has hit hard leading to several areas in the state being declared containment zones, said inter-state transport would be open, which means people from cities like Chandigarh will be allowed to travel to Punjab. Shops can open between 7 am and 6 pm. Other bans will continue, including on shopping malls, hotels, etc.
Some of the most innovative conditions have been imposed by Kerala. Liqour sales will be allowed from Wednesday, and till an online system is put in place, orders will be taken on phone from the shops run by the Kerala State Beverages Corporation. Restaurants will be allowed to run takeaway counters till 9 pm, while food online delivery will be allowed till 10 pm. Bars and clubs can operate based on restrictions, but clubs should not have more than five people at a time, and can sell takeaway liquor and food.
Barbershops and beauty parlours can operate without air conditioning and can offer hair cutting, hair dressing, and shaving services.
Gujarat’s worst hit cities, Ahmedabad and Surat, will see shops and offices open on an odd-even basis, barring containment zones. CM Vijay Rupani said: “It is obvious that 55 days of lockdown would have impacted the working class, including daily wagers, labourers, poor and middle class. Gujarat is a state of industry and trade and such activities can’t remain shut for very long.” While the inter-city public transport buses are being permitted in the state, the same will not be permitted to enter Ahmedabad.
Surat-based textile and diamond industry can now heave a sigh of relief, with Rupani announcing resumption of activities in these industries at 50 per cent capacity.
West Bengal has divided containment zones into three categories. After allowing public buses, taxis, and cab aggregators to resume operations, the state has also allowed auto rickshaws to ferry passengers from May 27. The same day, a decision will be taken to allow hawker markets to open daily on an odd-even formula. While most of the smaller and neighbourhood stores are already operational, the state has allowed big shops to open from May 21. Permission has also been given to hotels to commence operations and sanitization guidelines are underway for salons, barbers, and beauty parlours which will resume operations.
In a communication to the chief secretaries of the states and Union territories on Monday, Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla reiterated that “restrictions imposed for the fourth phase of the lockdown by the MHA cannot be diluted”.
Across India, by no means is life normal. But it seems to be getting there.
Inputs from Aditi Phadnis, Aneesh Phadnis, Virendra Rawat, Dasarath Reddy, Gireesh Babu & Avishek Rakshit