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Thursday, July 02, 2020

Unlock 1.0 Day 1: Temples open in Bengal, hustle bustle in other states as new guidelines come into play

With the government allowing unfettered movement of goods and persons within states, more vehicles were out on the roads, leading to snarls in many cities, even though public transport remained skeletal.

Written by Neha Banka , Tora Agarwala , Ralph Alex Arakal , Janardhan Koushik , Rahul V Pisharody | Bengaluru, Chennai, Guwahati, Hyderabad, Kolkata | Updated: June 1, 2020 8:18:34 pm
unlock 1, unlock 1 guidelines, kolkata temples open, About two months later, an old woman prays at a temple in Barasat in West Bengal.

From open shops and markets and milling crowds on roads to the hustle and bustle of railway stations, a semblance of normality seemed to return in various states as the country entered the first of the three-phase unlock plan on Monday. With the government allowing unfettered movement of goods and persons within states, more vehicles were out on the roads, leading to snarls in many cities, even though public transport remained skeletal.

In Bengaluru, an increase in people and vehicle movements were seen in most parts of the city except containment zones while roads in Tamil Nadu witnessed much more traffic with the arrival of auto rickshaws and taxis.

With 100 pairs of trains set to run from Monday, the South Western Railway kickstarted operations of 16 out of 23 trains. The first of these left KSR Bengaluru for Hubli junction at 6 am. Trains from Yeshwanthpur to Shivamogga town, from Bengaluru to Hubballi, and Danapur are also set to be flagged off later in the day.

In Kolkata, huge queues were seen at bus and auto stops in total disregard to social distancing norms as the Mamata Banerjee government allowed total attendance in micro, small, medium and large industries, including construction activities.

Passengers line up to board a bus on Monday at Barasat in Kolkata

Traffic snarls were witnessed in the city’s busiest intersections, including on Jessore Road near the airport, Esplanade, Howrah Bridge and VIP Road. Religious places like the Thantania Kali temple and Lake Kali Bari also reopened but the famous Kalighat temple and Birla Mandir in south Kolkata remained closed. West Bengal had decided to open religious places a week before the rest of the country.

Services were held in the morning for the first time in weeks at the Church of Our Lady of Dolours in north Kolkata. Each pew was occupied by two people sitting at opposite ends of the benches, all the while wearing masks.

Outside Kalighat temple in Kolkata. (Express photo by Neha Banka)

Despite government relaxations, New Market, one of the busiest and oldest market place in Kolkata, wore a deserted look. For many shop owners in the New Market complex, the absence of migrant workers meant a challenge to restart operations on the same scale as before.

“None of the florists in the market have opened their shops because the migrant workers have all gone back to their villages. So we don’t have workers to run the shops even if we are allowed to open them,” said Deependu, a florist in New Market.

Even though the Telangana government removed all restrictions on inter-state movement, those waiting to travel out of the state were left disappointed as most of the private bus booking agents remained shut on Monday. The government is yet to take a decision on inter-state bus transport.

Workers at a salon in Mohali on Monday

At Lakdi-ka-pul in Hyderabad, one of the busiest hubs of booking agents, a travel agent said they were yet to hear from the government on when they could resume services. “No RTC buses are plying in Hyderabad, do you think inter-state buses would be allowed to operate? Only those who want to travel to other states in their vehicle can do so without any travel permission,” he said.

Speaking to indianexpress.com, Superintendent of Police, Adilabad, Vishnu S Warrier, said there were no restrictions while traveling to Telangana in private vehicles. Adilabad is the major district bordering Maharashtra, which is the worst-affected state due to Covid-19.

“All commuters are subjected to thermal screening. The details of travel are passed on to the district administration at his/her destination for ensuring home quarantine,” he said.

The first day of ‘Unlock 1.0’ in Assam, which witnessed a surge in Covid-19 cases in the past two weeks, taking the tally to 1300, had little impact as a bulk of the relaxations had come into effect in the state from May 4 itself. Even though the Centre allowed opening of religious places from June 8, the management of the biggest temple in Assam, Kamakhya temple, which attracts thousands of visitors, has decided to keep its premises shut till July.

Hawkers have also started opening shops from Monday in parts of Kolkata.

However, Assam will witness more economic activity from Tuesday, with the government giving a green signal to barber shops and beauty parlours as well as allowing public spaces like parks to open and studios for films shoots.

About 400 km away, there was not much activity in Manipur as the government extended the curfew in Imphal city and other district headquarters till June 15 from 2 pm to 5 am. Curfew in other areas will be in force from 5 pm to 5 am till June 30.

In Tamil Nadu, bus services with 50 per cent strength and 60 per cent occupancy resumed in the state after 68 days and close to 400 buses started operations in Madurai district, providing much needed relief to those struggling to commute from their towns to the city.

While people were seen wearing masks and maintaining social distancing in buses, there were reports that in a few of the big towns, buses were plying without sanitisers.

The government has classified the 37 districts in Tamil Nadu into eight zones, with relaxations not applicable for areas like Kancheepuram, Chengalpet, Tiruvallur, Greater Chennai, where a higher number of Covid-19 cases have been reported.

A popular shopping centre Tulsibaug reopens after lockdown on Monday in Pune

Arasu Raja (37), an auto-driver from Nandanam in Chennai, claimed the public were still hesitant to travel in autos fearing the spread of the virus. “We came to know about these relaxations only by today morning, and we immediately went to work. Since morning, hardly we saw two or three customers. We have been jobless for the past three months and have been pressured by our owners to pay our dues. We pledged our family members’ jewels and paid the existing loans,” he said.

Moreover, several hotels and restaurants in cities are gearing up to open their businesses on June 8 after a gap of more than two months. Bengaluru’s iconic Vidyarthi Bhavan restaurant in Basavanagudi has introduced a new seating pattern even though the Health Ministry is yet to come up with Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for the same.

In Gujarat, as many as one lakh auto rickshaws in Ahmedabad were allowed to operate on Monday

Restaurants and hotels, which have seen a huge slump in business, can now open for dine-in facilities. So far, restaurants were given permission for take-aways and online deliveries.

In Kolkata, while restaurants have been allowed to operate from June 1, many hinted there was a lack of clarity in the government’s announcement and would wait for specific guidelines before resuming full-fledged dine-in services.

Many establishments like Flurys started by providing home-delivery services. A staff member at one of the city’s major restaurants who spoke on the condition of anonymity said, “As of today, we are waiting for the guidelines by the government.”

(With inputs from Darshan Devaiah and Jimmy Leivon)

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