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Delhi cracks lockdown whip, forces closure of markets flouting norms

Over the past two weeks, at least nine markets, including Lajpat Nagar, Gaffar Market, Sadar Bazar and Laxmi Nagar, were forced to shut down for flouting social distancing and other Covid protocol, though they were subsequently reopened after assurances from market associations and other stakeholders.

Written by Mallica Joshi | New Delhi |
Updated: July 13, 2021 7:20:07 am
Janpath market in New Delhi on Monday. (Express photo by Amit Mehra)

As the Capital’s Covid count continues to dip — Delhi recorded 45 cases, the lowest in 15 months, on Monday — and with lockdown restrictions eased considerably, markets and public spaces across the city have drawn huge crowds, forcing authorities to crack down.

Over the past two weeks, at least nine markets, including Lajpat Nagar, Gaffar Market, Sadar Bazar and Laxmi Nagar, were forced to shut down for flouting social distancing and other Covid protocol, though they were subsequently reopened after assurances from market associations and other stakeholders.

While the government attempts to strike a balance between resuming economic activity and not risking another surge in cases, the caution is also linked to the fact that Delhi’s peaks have been far sharper than elsewhere — in April this year, the Capital recorded 28,395 cases in a single day, more than any other city.

Delhi also saw a dire shortage of hospital beds as well as oxygen during the second wave, which killed at least 13,263 people between April and May.

As other cities, too, see a dip in cases as well as heavy crowding in public places, they will likely look at Delhi for lessons and solutions.

When the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) issued unlockdown guidelines for markets in June, it was with a warning that crowding would mean another closure.

Within days, however, the Delhi High Court took note of photographs of crowded markets sent to one of the judges by an AIIMS doctor and said that the breach of Covid protocol will only hasten a possible third wave.

In its guidelines, DDMA had made it clear that district magistrates, DCPs and officials of the Municipal Corporations, alongside market associations, would be held responsible for ensuring that norms are being followed in markets.

“If the… norms of Covid appropriate behaviour are not maintained at any establishment/ business premises/weekly market, then such premises/ weekly market shall be liable to be closed for containing the spread of COVID-19 virus and the defaulter shall also be liable for criminal prosecution under the relevant laws,” the order states.

Officials in the district administrations said the only way to ensure compliance is to penalise shop owners for flouting Covid protocol.

“Everyone is keen to get back to work and for business to restart. After the long lockdowns and loss in revenue, no one wants markets to be shut again. The only thing to do in these cases is to keep a keen eye on the crowds and involve the market associations. So far, we have got a positive response from them,” said a senior official in the New Delhi district, where Sadar Bazar has been shut for violations.

According to R P Meena, DCP South East Delhi, police teams as well as officials from the office of the Sub Divisional Magistrates keep an eye on the markets.

“Our teams are present in the markets. We have partnered with the shopkeepers and market association heads. Most of them have got their staff vaccinated. We have placed sanitisers at market entries and outside shops. But when we realised that the number of visitors and violations were increasing, especially in the evenings, we had to shut markets,” said Meena.

Close to 1,000 shops remained shut in Lajpat Nagar for two days last week.

Sanjeev Madan, head of the Lajpat Nagar Market Association, said, “On Sunday, a team that had the District Magistrate, Additional District Magistrate and Sub Divisional Magistrate was in the market, and did a flag march to ensure norms were followed. People require a push, otherwise they let down their guard… But the administration has to ensure that illegal hawkers and encroachments are dealt with strongly, otherwise all efforts will be in vain,” Madan said.

Market associations are now planning to provide special identity cards and passes to employees of shops to ensure that only those who are allowed to do business in the markets are let in.

Ashok Randhawa, a member of the Sarojini Nagar Market Association, said that they have been holding regular meetings with the district administration as well as the police to ensure the market remains open.

“It is in our best interests to follow the norms. We have been able to get back to business after months and another closure would spell doom. We have met the authorities at least twice over the past week and are working with them to ensure only 2-3 people are allowed inside shops at a time,” he said.

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