On Monday, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, while giving reasons for putting Maharashtra in a lockdown, pointed to the inability of people to stay home in spite of express directions from the state. “I’m compelled to enforce the curfew in the state as I got information in the morning from many places about people being out on the streets,” Thackeray said.
The chief minister’s exasperation was justified as Monday saw hundreds of vehicles pour out onto Mumbai’s streets especially on the major highways that lead out of the city.
Kalamboli, the entry point to the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, saw massive jams as residents tried to move out of Mumbai in droves cramped in private cars. “People’s mentality is such that they think everything has been achieved by sitting at home for a day and they now want to head to their hometowns. We have had instances where we had up to 10 people crammed into a car. We have been stopping and asking them to turn back and realise this risk of venturing out during these times,” Satish Gaikwad, senior inspector at Kalamboli police station, said.
Most of the people who wanted to get onto the Mumbai-Pune Expressway were residents of Western Maharashtra residing in Mumbai who wanted to head back to their native places. “We have hired this car to go home. I am a driver working in Mumbai. There is no business in Mumbai. It is better that me and my family spend my days in my native village till this crisis passes,” a person who was heading towards Satara with his family said.
While the police sent a number of vehicles back to Mumbai, the rising number of vehicles that kept piling up and the resultant traffic jam meant that the exasperated cops finally allowed them to leave a large bunch of cars towards Pune.
Similar scenes were seen on Anand Nagar Toll Naka in Thane which saw traffic on both sides with people heading into Mumbai as well as going out of the city. “In the morning Navi Mumbai police noticed that the vehicular movement on the road was like any other working day. So accordingly we informed the authorities and a decision was taken to stop them.” Vijay Patil, superintendent of highway traffic police, said.
Patil added that they came across few people who believe that this is a vacation period and they were travelling to Lonavala and Pune. Few people were even going back to their native place as they are bored in Mumbai. “After four days they may get bored in their native place and then travel back to Mumbai which is risky. People are not taking this pandemic seriously and we have to educate them,” Patil told The Indian Express.
When asked whether there is any notification issued by the government or by their department, he said, “We are just trying to stop the spread of the virus and people travelling from one place to another will not help the society. But there is nothing in writing so far, we are trying to get a notification issued as people may soon start raising voice against us.”
Once the strictly enforced “janata curfew”followed by the formal curfew imposed by Mumbai police ended at 5 am, in some parts of the city several people stepped out leading to crowding at places like shops. Following this, the police started asking people who were just loitering around and did not have any good reason to be out to get back home. The police also asked auto and cab drivers to not ply unless they were taking passengers who needed essential services.
While majority of the shops on the streets were shut, only medical stores and shops selling eatables were open. There were police nakabandis at several main junctions like the one on SV road in Andheri (west). An ASI from Juhu police at the spot said that while they were questioning private vehicles and passengers travelling in autos and cabs about why they had stepped out. “If they had a valid reason, we allowed them to go ahead or else we asked them to return. We had to do this as a lot of people had stepped out in the morning. By afternoon however, since the number of people reduced substantially, we did not stop many vehicles,” the policeman said.
An auto driver said that the police had stopped him once when he was taking passengers to Versova. “They asked the passengers why they were out and told me that they would seize my vehicle if I ply without any valid reason. Later when I met a senior citizen who wanted to go to the police station, I allowed her to do so. Since there are fewer auto available, she has asked me to wait outside the police station so I can take her back,” the auto driver Ram Bhajan Yadav said.
The police said that in several cases when they asked people why they were out, they made up fake reasons to come out on the road. The police officials posted at Thane toll naka said that they came across a group of six men who came to the city from Thane in their XUV. “ When the police asked them the reason for their travel, they claimed that one of them was ill and the rest are rushing him to hospital. We figured they were just trying to make excuses and allowed them to return,” an official said.
‘Special arrangements for cops to help them commute from adjoining districts’
Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh talks to Mohamed Thaver about the biggest challenge his force has been facing amid a rise in COVID-19 cases across the city.
A major chunk of the nearly 50,000-strong Mumbai Police force resides in Thane and Navi Mumbai. How will they make it to the police stations with train services shut?
The government has made special arrangement to bring them to the city from adjoining districts. In Mumbai, special buses are being run for essential services ? be it by private operators or the government ? using which they can reach their respective police stations. The government is taking care of it with help of other agencies like Thane Municipal Corporation, MSRDC and the transport commissioner is coordinating this.
What was the response of people on the streets today? Did people stay indoors or did they come out on the roads and the police had to send them back?
In some areas, people were coming out and crowding at shops. So, we told them not to gather there and they listened. By and large, people were at home but in some areas, there were some who were just loitering around. These people have been sent home and we have told them they cannot loiter on the roads.
Was anyone booked for violating police orders?
Usually, the people responded to police’s requests and we did not have to resort to any stringent action. However, if anyone does not listen, no doubt action will be taken.
How can the Mumbai Police take action against those not following prohibitory orders or curfew?
We can book people under Section 188 of Indian Penal Code. For laws that do not specify punishment, like Epidemic Act or even Section 144 of CrPC, the police can use Section 188 that stands for disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant and is punishable with imprisonment of either description for a term, which may extend to six months, or with fine that may extend to Rs 1000, or both.
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