A municipal worker sprays disinfectant at Dilshad Colony F-block, one of the city’s hotspots, on day sixteen of the 21 day nationwide lockdown to limit the spread of coronavirus in New Delhi on Thursday.(Sonu Mehta/HT PHOTO)
It was around 9pm on Wednesday when Rana Majeed (62) saw a news-flash on television channels about the Delhi government declaring 23 areas “containment zones”. Soon, she learnt that her gated community, Shahjahanabad cooperative group housing society Dwarka’s Sector 11, was one of them.
This is how most residents in Delhi’s 23 containment zones got to know about the government’s decision. The zones include buildings (such as the Tablighi Jamaat Markaz in Nizamuddin), neighbourhoods (such as Bengali Market, two blocks in Nizamuddin and one in Malviya Nagar), apartment complexes (three in east Delhi, one in Dwarka), and congested alleys in other parts of the city like Sadar and Laxmi Nagar.
Areas like those in Nizamuddin and east Delhi’s Khichdipur and Kalyanpuri, where containment activities have been on since March 31, saw tighter security arrangements on Thursday.
From midnight on Wednesday, the police and city district administration started sealing some of the newly listed zones to prevent the spread of Covid-19, even as it was business as usual in a few others till Thursday morning, despite the orders issued a day earlier.
As news about locking down identified areas spread across the city, residents said they were worried about essential supplies and the duration of the complete lockdown. On the other hand, the police beefed up security, health officials conducted door-to-door checks, and the area sub-divisional magistrates coordinated with area representatives to streamline the process of home delivery of essential items.
Hindustan Times spoke to residents of containment zones over the phone, since the areas have been sealed completely.
PANIC FOR SOME, SAFETY FOR OTHERS
In Shahjahanabad housing society, resident welfare association (RWA) members said they had not received any written communication about the containment plan from the administration till Thursday afternoon.
“We don’t have a written order for the lockdown of our society till now. Even doctors are not allowed to leave their apartments. The rules state that health care workers are exempted,” Majeed, secretary of the housing society that has 236 flats, told HT.
The local administration, however, said the orders mean no one can step outside the society, including doctors. “We will reach out to them and explain the dos and don’ts,” said an administration official.
A week ago, two people who had visited the Nizamuddin Markaz tested positive for Covid-19 in her Majeed’shousing society and eight others were shifted to a quarantine facility. All 10 were living in the same house.
The scenes were much calmer in the three housing societies of east Delhi that have been put under lockdown.East Delhi has the highest number of containment zones — nine.
Police officers deployed in the area said the residents in these societies have taken the lead to keep everyone in home quarantine. While area SDMs have pasted copies of the containment order at the gates of these societies, station house officers (SHO) have put up letters urging residents to follow the lockdown orders, failing which penal action could be initiated. Barricades were put in front of gates to ensure no vehicle or person is allowed to enter or leave the premises.
Despite Thursday being Shab-e-Baraat, residents of Nizamuddin, which has become one of the biggest Covid-19 hotspots in the country, complied with the order in the most strict terms.
“Usually, on Shab-e-Baraat, Nizamuddin area sees a massive crowd every year because of the dargah. Thankfully, today we can see no one around. All clerics and other religious leaders sent out messages, urging people to perform Ibadat in their homes. Safety of our families and that of others is our top priority now,” said Altamash Nizami, member of the management committee of Nizamuddin Dargah, located in the middle of the containment zone.
CONFUSION OVER ESSENTIAL SUPPLIES
The government has asked residents across the 23 containment zones not to step outside their homes “at any cost”. It also assured that all essential goods would be delivered to their homes.
“A contact number, decided by the local administration and the area RWA, is given to every household. A common collection point has been identified in these areas. The items are to be sent by the store till that point. From there, either civil defence volunteers or police personnel will deliver the goods to the respective house. The same process will also be followed for the delivery of medicines,” said a district magistrate on the condition of anonymity.
But in Dilshad Garden’s J&K block, one of the two hot spots in Delhi that has been under strict surveillance since March 27, little changed on Thursday morning except for extra police deployment.
Instead, grocery and general stores saw large crowds as people resorted to panic buying.
“Doorstep delivery is not happening as of now. There were such large crowds in stores that RWAs took matters into their hands to ensure social distancing. There is no helpline number for us to inform somebody about the items we need delivered,” said Anil Kumar Sharma, vice-president of the RWA.
The scene was similar in Pratap Khand in north-east Delhi’s Jhilmil Colony, but only in the morning. By afternoon, the entire colony was completely sealed, with all its 13 gates locked and barricaded.
It was only in the afternoon that the logistics of how essentials will be supplied to the 348 households in the colony was deliberated. Vinod Kumar, the general secretary of the colony’s RWA attended a meeting held by the area SDM, SHO and ACP at the colony’s main road.
“At first, it was decided that the RWA would issue a common number for every household to give their list of daily needs. But later, the SDM asked the SHO to identify one or two local stores which could be opened once or twice a day for people to buy all the items they want. A final call is still to be taken. Most families said they have enough stocks to last them 10 days,” Kumar said.
In Nizamuddin, Delhi government officials visited the Basti area, which primarily houses those from economically weaker sections, on Thursday and announced that rations would be delivered through government vehicles, so that residents did not have to step out for food or essentials.
But, the poor residents of south Delhi’s Moti Bagh were not as lucky as those in Nizamuddin.
At around 1pm on Thursday, 50-odd residents of the slum in central Delhi’s Moti Bagh, where a sanitation work had earlier tested positive for Covid-19, were stopped by police while they were on their way to the nearby government-run food shelter.
The police presence around the slum, which was cordoned off a few days back, was beefed on Thursday and no resident was allowed to leave.
“People started gathering at one of the main exits to go to the food shelter for lunch. But they were not allowed. We had to call the police for help. Most of them are migrants who work on daily wages. They didn’t get food till 3pm. The police have assured that they will get food delivered at home in the evening,” said Suraj Singh Pradhan, a community leader in the area.
When contacted, area MLA Pramila Tokas said, “The matter was brought to my notice by the area SDM and SHO. I immediately sent dry rations for 100 families in the area. I had a meeting with district authorities, and we trying to streamline essential supplies to the slum.”
SURVEILLANCE, HEALTH CHECKS AND SANITISATION
From tracking mobile phones to monitoring CCTV camera footage, local police in these containment zones are ensuring strict compliance to the lockdown order. Even enforcement officials or health teams who enter or leave these zones are allowed to do so only after screening and registration of their names.
In Dinpur village in Chhawla-Najafgarh area, where a person tested positive for Covid-19, the police went a step ahead and started using drones to ensure everyone follows the strict home quarantine orders.
“We have earmarked that house as the epicentre and a one-kilometre area around it has been completely sealed. We used a drone camera to monitor the activities of the residents and ensured nobody left the area or that any outsider entered,” said deputy commissioner of police (Dwarka) Anto Alphonse.
“Lesser police personnel is required in such zones. However, in bigger containment zones such as villages and unauthorised colonies that have multiple entry and exit points, we are deploying 100-150 personnel in each shift,” said a police officer.
In Dwarka’s Shahjahanabad housing society, the DCP said of the two gates, one has been completely sealed while police deployment has been made at the other gate, from where supply of essential items is being ensured.
“We are making announcements through public address system and making the residents aware of the containment order and the arrangements being done for delivery of essential items,” he added.
In Shahdara district, where five areas have been marked as containment zones, the police have been planning to use drone cameras.
”We are in the process of procuring drones for surveillance. As of now, manual surveillance is being kept through police patrolling and checking footage of CCTV cameras installed in the lanes,” said DCP (Shahdara) Dinesh Kumar Gupta.
The SDMs, on Thursday, were busy coordinating with the police, the local RWAs and the medical teams to ensure door-to-door checking, proper surveillance, keeping tabs on teams engaged in contact tracing and adequate supply of essentials.
Each of these zones has at medical teams deployed, depending on the size of the containment area. These teams are going from home to home to collect data such as name, age, phone number, address and reports on flu/influenza-like symptoms.
Officials in the revenue department said enforcing the containment plans is not always a smooth ride.
At Pratap Khand, for example, some residents did not allow health officials to enter their homes for data collection fearing it was being done as part of the National Population Register exercise, which several communities in this area have protested against.
“The Muslim household feared that the data collection was being done for NPR. Then the teams which also comprised officials from the World Health Organisation (WHO) contacted us to help them out. So, we went with the health teams to every household and explained to them after which they agreed,” said Vinod Kumar, general secretary of Pratap Khand RWA.
The MCDs have been tasked with sanitising and disinfecting the containment zones multiple times a day.
For violating the lockdown, containment, quarantine and prohibitory orders, the police are booking violators under the Epidemic Diseases Act and sections 188 (Disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant), 269 (Negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life), 270 (Malignant act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life), and 271 (disobedience of quarantine rule) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
First-time offenders or those who inadvertently stepped out of their houses are being booked only under Section 188 of the IPC, in which the offender can be fined with a maximum of R1000, imprisonment that may extend up to six months, or with both.