Recognizing the signs of a possible disaster if the coronavirus is not contained, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 24 announced a nationwide 21-day lockdown.
"To save India and every Indian, there will be a total ban on venturing out of your homes," he said in a national address.
On the first day of the lockdown, which is March 25, streets across the country mostly lay deserted. Shops had their shutters down, the parks that are usually abuzz with morning joggers remained empty.
While day one of the lockdown seemed like the beginning of a success story, incidents around the country had slightly different tales to tell.
Home Quarantine Violations And Police Atrocities
While a number of people were booked for venturing out for no emergency, opening businesses and and violating home quarantine rules, reports of police excesses have emerged from various areas, including Uttar Pradesh's Ghaziabad district. Police were seen thrashing people for coming out of their homes.
Various people on social media have claimed that people who were out to buy essential commodities were beaten up by police.
While there were reports of Bihar Police beating people who were out to buy necessary goods or going to ATMs, police allegedly shut shops that fall in the 'Essential Services' category in Gurugram, Haryana.
Residents of the national capital have accused Delhi police of behaving like "goons" and "terrorising" people in the name of enforcing the lockdown. They accused police of harassing those who went out to buy essentials exempt from prohibitory orders in force. They also allegedly raided a market and beat up vegetable sellers and grocery store owners.
Besides violations and police atrocities, a Republic TV reporter was seen heckling an ESIC hospital doctor near DND flyover Noida as he was on his way to work. The reporter is seen doubting Dr Ashish Singhal's credentials and further accusing him of carrying a fake identity card.
Following the incident Noida's ESIC Hospital put out a statement, on March 24, criticising Republic for harassing one of their doctors for 'violating the lockdown' issued by the state government in light of COVID-19 outbreak.
Confusion Over Exemptions
Amid the 21-day nationwide lockdown, local authorities and police remained confused over exemptions, causing disruptions in essential goods and services, the last-mile supply of food and grocery items, which are exempted from prohibitory orders.
Several authorities raised concerns over non-adherence of Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) orders in several states. Offline retailers like Future Retail accused police of confiscating their staff's bikes and keys, and even beating them on their thanks to stores.
Many online grocers like Bigbasket suspended operations due to "restrictions imposed by local authorities on the movement of products in spite of clear guidelines provided by central authorities to enable essential services".
Micro-delivery service 'Milkbasket' had to dump 15,000 litres of milk and over 10,000 kg of fruits and vegetables after over 50 communities denied entry to its delivery executives. it's suspended deliveries for Gurugram, Noida and Hyderabad.
Online daily delivery company SuprDaily suspended services to Mumbai, Pune, Delhi-NCR and Hyderabad for March 26. "We face tremendous challenges at the bottom level thanks to the strict restrictions imposed by local authorities and government bodies. Our delivery executives are putting themselves in danger to deliver milk and groceries, which are essential commodities, but most have either been asked to travel back or face severe consequences," said Puneet Kumar, founder & CEO of SuprDaily.
The situation was no different for offline retailers doing home deliveries. Major retailers and trade associations Wednesday met top officials of the Central government, raising the difficulty of being harassed by local enforcement agencies.
Chemists raised concerns about panic buying of medicines like anti-diabetic drugs and even paracetamol. A large number of Delhi's distributors shut their shops in fear of the police, or because their workforce has gone back home to other states.
Mass Exodus Of Migrant Workers
PM Modi's lockdown also triggered a mass exodus of migrant workers.
Lakhs of workers who run food stalls, drive public transport, work in other small businesses fled for their homes in rural India. Factories and establishments were shut and construction activities came to a halt. Many of the workers who wished to return to their homes, began their long journeys home on foot after the sudden shutdown brought the nation to a standstill.
People in long queues, with bags and luggage were seen walking along the edges of national highways of several states. The sudden reactive measures have a major impact on the most vulnerable in the country.
In Uttar Pradesh, some migrant workers planned their 36-hour journey on foot with few breaks. A young boy was seen crying because there was no way home and no way to escape police who thrashed him.
Not just the loss of work and wages, but also a fear of falling sick and dying among strangers, compelled migrant workers to flee for their homes.
When PM Modi addressed the nation for the second time and urged people to "stay where you are." Thousands of workers understood it as staying at bus stations, or at empty railway stations, or on streets and highways as they had nowhere else to go.
Besides the workers, over 1,000 people who set off from Hyderabad to various districts in Andhra Pradesh were stranded on March 25 at the Garikapadu border check-post as no vehicle or person could be allowed into the state due to tthe lockdown
What Is The Government Doing?
As several doctors and policemen reported evictions by landlords after being accused of having contracted the virus, Narendra Modi addressed his constituents in Varanasi via video conferencing, where he urged people not to discriminate against frontline workers, including healthcare workers and cops.
He further said that doctors must be treated as Gods as they are risking their lives in this situation to save others'.
Amid the demand for financial assistance by states, the central government is set to announce a fiscal package for the millions of poors and businesses hit by the nationwide lockdown.
Now, the Central government will provide wheat at Rs 2 per kg and rice at Rs 3 per kg, to around 80 crore people enrolled with ration shops, for the next three months. Their monthly quota of subsidised food grains will also be increased by 2 kg each - from 5 kg to 7 kg. "80 crore people will get wheat at Rs 2 a kg and rice at Rs 3 kg for the next three months," Union Minister Prakash Javdekar said after the Union Cabinet's meeting.
A large number of Delhi's distributors have shut their shops in fear of the police, or because their workforce has gone back home to other states.
The MHA, to guard paramedics and doctors from harassment, has issued a directive asking local authorities to "take strict penal action against such landlords/ house-owners under the relevant provisions of law and submit an Action Taken Report on a day to day to the ministry".