How Tamil Nadu and its people are coping with the lockdown: A ground report

Topics Coronavirus | Chennai | Lockdown

A police personnel verifies documents provided by motorists during a 21-day nationwide lockdown in the wake of coronavirus pandemic, in Chennai
Vandalur is the entry point to Chennai from southern Tamil Nadu, where at least 80 per cent of the population lives. The area has always been chocked and it would take no less than an hour and a half on normal days and 2-3 hours during weekends to pass through. Today, however, the road is deserted and heavily guarded by policemen, who neither allow vehicles to enter nor leave the city. The situation is the same at the seven other entry points to the city, and nobody can enter or exit Chennai unless he or she is carting essentials or is facing an emergency situation.

A ground visit to Melmaruvathur, some 100 km from the city, shows that the police have taken control to enforce Section 144 of Cr PC, using public address systems to ask people to stay indoors till April 14. Those venturing out to various parts of the state have faced lathi charges, apart from having their vehicle keys confiscated by the sub-collector. Mobile phones have been forcefully taken from ladies, fuel tank connections have been severed and vehicle tyres punctured. Tamil Nadu, which had very few Covid-19 positive cases compared to many other major states until last week, has started seeing a spike this week to 35 till Friday noon.

Inside Chennai city, the usually busy roads have been deserted since Tuesday evening after the State came under a complete lockdown as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Fifty-five-year-old Kannamma (name changed), a domestic who visits various apartments in the neighbourhood, was advised by the policemen not to go to work. Some of her employers have also asked her to stay at home and and refrain from coming to work till the disease is controlled.  

"I know it is very dangerous to go out and work. But what will people like me do to meet expenses if we don't go to work? The government has announced Rs 1,000 per ration card, but it's pittance," says Kannamma, who continues to go to a few houses to do the chores. She is averse to using a mask and is reluctant to wash hands frequently, as she believes she is doing enough with soaps and detergents while working.

Saravanan, a small shopkeeper in T Nagar, is fed up with attending calls nowadays, since most of the callers want grocery items and vegetables delivered at home. Already shortstaffed, he finds it difficult to send the items even though customers remind him that the government has advised the public to avail home delivery services. Many small shopkeepers have shut down since they are short-staffed as the workers are afraid to come to work.

Premalatha, a retired professor who needs to cisit a hospital a few kilometers away for dialysis every alternate day, found it difficult to get a vehicle to reach her there on Thursday as autorkishaws and taxis are not plying. She was lucky as one of her neighbours agreed to take her to the hospital in his car.

Last Monday, Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami announced various measures restricting people from coming out from their homes from 6 pm on Tuesday till March 31, which is now extended to April 14, in line with Prime Minister's announcement of a lockdown drawing a 'Lakshman Rekha' at the doorstep of everyone's houses for 21 days. Public transport, including autorickshaws, taxis, and inter-district and inter-State transport have been suspended. Some shops selling groceries, milk, vegetables, poultry and fish are open in a few areas for a few hours. The state government has said food apps like Swiggy, Zomato cannot operate until further orders while e-commerce firms like Grofers, Amazon, Big Basket, Flipkart, Dunzo can. Groceries and other shops providing essentials have been allowed to remain open 24x7.

Temples and other places of worship remain closed for public.

City Police Commissioner A K Viswanathan issued orders under Section 144 of Cr PC prohibiting the assembly of more than five persons at public places in Greater Chennai police limits from 6 p.m. on March 24 to 6 a.m. on April 1. This has now been extended to April 14. Violators risk prosecution under IPC.

The busy Koyambedu market, one of the Asia's largest fruit and vegetable wholesale set-ups, looked deserted. While farm produce is arriving at the market, very few are coming down to buy. "There is no issue in bringing vegetables from other states or from other parts of Tamil Nadu, as they are exempted from the lockdown under the essential service act. The police know this and do not stop them at the borders. But the issue is there are no buyers. More than 50 per cent of the business is affected," said S Chandran, president, Koyambedu Market Licensed Merchants' Association. However, several residents complained that their local vegetable shop was closed and they could not go further due to the restriction.

The Dr MGR bus terminus, which is very close to the Koyambedu market, and from where buses to other parts of the state and neighbouring states start, was shut and the entry points barricaded.

The beaches are already off limits to the public, the arterial Kamarajar Salai was also barricaded and policemen advised motorists to head home. Across the city, police personnel patrol the lanes and main roads day and night, asking the people to stay indoors and ordering shopkeepers, other than those permitted, to down shutters.

Policemen stationed at various locations continue to warn people to stay indoors by reminding them of the speed with which the disease is spreading and its consequences. “If you are safe, your family will be safe. If you venture out, you are not only inviting danger upon yourself, but are also putting others at risk,” a policemen told motorist with folded hands.

In Madhurantakam town, almost 90 km from Chennai and a major trading hub in the state, streets looked deserted. All shops and markets were closed after the local administration has started taking stringent actions, including lathi charge physical punishments among others against people who are venturing out.

However, S Sundar, a local resident, says while they get milk, other essential products like vegetables and groceries are available only for few hours during that time shops are getting flooded with people.

The other major problem is hospitals, this don't have any big hospitals or specialty hospital and the residents here depend on Chennai for major health care. Since the city is closed, they are not able to access any speciality hospitals even for emergency and Police are not allowing to go to the doctors despite the reaons are genuine.

Blessing in disguise is, my kids could see how this town was when I was in their age. Its calm, neat, fresh air, play around on the roads, adds Raghavan, another local resident. The only question from many, who recognises the seriousness of the issue, is that how long they need to be put up with restrictions.

Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel