Several states had announced a lockdown in the wake of the Sunday Janata curfew but Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement of a 21-day lockdown from midnight Tuesday, under the Disaster Management Act, standardises and extends the shutdown across the country. In doing so, it signals the resolve of the government to ensure social distancing at a scale unprecedented in history coinciding with the increasing possibility that the pandemic could have entered Stage 3 — community transmission.
Within minutes of his address, there were reports of panic buying for groceries and provisions from across the nation which had, until then, hunkered down for a lockdown until March 31. But quick tweets from Modi attempted to assuage fears. “My fellow citizens, there is absolutely no need to panic. Essential commodities, medicine etc would be available. the Centre and various state governments will work in close coordination to ensure this,” he said.
His next tweet seemed to acknowledge the confusion. “By converging around shops, you are risking the spread of COVID-19. No panic buying please. Please stay indoors. I repeat — the Centre and State governments will ensure all essentials are open.”
This tweet referred to guidelines issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs — after the PM’s speech — which specify that all commercial and private establishments will be shut, but with exceptions: “shops, including ration shops delaing with food, groceries, fruits and vegetables, dairy and milk booths, meat and fish, animal fodder.” With a rider that district authorities may encourage and facilitate home delivery to minimise the movement of individuals outside their homes.”
The exceptions also include delivery of essential items through e-commerce; banks, insurance offices, ATMs, print and electronic media, telecommunication, internet services, broadcasting and cable services. During the lockdown, petrol pumps, cold storage units, power generation and transmission services and private security services will also be allowed to function.
Still, the lockdown is sweeping in its scope and scale: most Central and state government offices will be shut except essential services such as police, defence, public utilities, electricity, water, sanitation etc, with the addendum that a minimum number of employees will work.
The shutdown includes all transport services, which include air, rail and road transport except for transportation of essential goods and emergency services. Medical services, both private and public, including supportive manufacturing and distribution units, will remain functional.
While all industrial and hospitality industries will be shut, the guidelines order the shutting down of all religious places of worship and imposition of a bar on all religious congregations. Funerals will not have more than 20 people in attendance and all social, political, cultural and sports-related gatherings have been banned.
In sharp contrast to the Janata curfew where the spirit of voluntary participation was invoked, this time compliance has been underlined especially after several reports and images of people came in from many parts of the country disregarding social distancing norms and even participating in celebratory gatherings.
To implement these hard containment measures, the District Magistrate will deploy executive magistrates as Incident Commanders in their respective local jurisdictions. They will be responsible for the overall implementation of these measures, as well as for the issuance of passes for those who are exempt.
The Prime Minister issued orders for the lockdown as Chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority under Section 6(2) of the Disaster Management Act. Based on this, the Home Secretary, in his capacity as Chairperson of the National Executive Committee, issued the guidelines.
While large parts of the country, especially urban centres such as Delhi and Mumbai were already in lockdown, the announcement will now see legal action against offenders under Sections 51 to 60 of the Disaster Management Act 2005 as well as Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code. The punishments range from fines and imprisonment from six months to two years.
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