J&K reopens after month of curfew, people heave sigh of relief
Many shops and markets reopened and public transport resumed, gradually, in parts of Kashmir including Srinagar, on Monday after the month-long lockdown imposed to contain the surging Covid-19 infections last month was partially lifted.
From early Monday morning, shopkeepers started to open shutters hesitantly and people trickled into the streets. There was initial reluctance to resume business among traders and transporters as the news of unlock took time to trickle down.
At Dalgate market, a cloth merchant said, “I am opening the shop exactly after a month. Past three years have been difficult, particularly for traders.”
Jammu and Kashmir has witnessed lockdowns continuously for the last three years – first with abrogation of Article 370 in 2019 and then following two Covid waves in 2020 and 2021.
May has been a devastating month with 1,12,857 Covid cases and 1,588 deaths in J&K. The authorities had imposed a Covid curfew on April 29 and decided to lift it from Monday.
In the 15 districts of the UT, including Srinagar and Jammu, which have been placed under orange category, outdoor bazaars and shopping areas will open on alternate days while in five districts of Kashmir in red category — Pulwama, Anantnag, Baramulla, Budgam and Kupwara — public transport and malls will remain shut. However, auto-rickshaws will follow an odd-even system.
Weekend curfew will continue in all the 20 districts from Friday 8pm to Monday 7am and the daily curfew will remain in force from 8pm to 7am.
State executive committee has kept all educational institutions, including the private coaching centres, closed till June 15. It also opted to keep all cinema halls, multiplexes, clubs, gyms, spas and paid parks closed until further orders.
In a major relief marginal labourers including construction workers and daily wage earners were also seen returning back to their work.
“It’s a major relief to daily wagers like us. We were having a tough time as construction works had come to a standstill,” said Rajesh, a marble worker from Chhattisgarh.
In the meantime, private cars filled the streets of the city while one could witness autos and three-wheelers lining up their area stands.
Occasional public transport buses, including those run by State Road Transport Corporation, were seen ferrying people.
At the Boulevard Road lining the Dal Lake, empty shikaras were seen waiting for customers on the ghat. “I rarely ferried any visitor during the lockdown. I hope things will improve now. It is summer and we hope tourists will visit,” said a middle-aged shikara-rower Mohammad Sultan.
A fruit-seller in the old city was agitated when asked about the effect of the lockdown. “Covid has not just devastated our health and economy but also our peace of mind,” he said.
Authorities say that Covid wave has now started affecting the rural areas as well. The administration has been establishing five-bedded Covid care centres in every panchayat of the UT.
Akhtar Rashid, a farmer from a remote village of Shopian, was waiting on the roadside in Srinagar so that somebody can hire him for daily labour work. “I came to the city a few days ago as I anticipated that the lockdown will be lifted. I finished farming at my hometown and now have some spare time. I want to earn some days of labour,” he said.
In old city and posh Gandhi Nagar area policemen were seen at rotaries and markets.
They also made announcements on loudspeakers asking the people to follow Covid-appropriate behaviour strictly.
“Gradual opening of businesses may not lead to rise in Covid cases irrespective of our concern. Cars on roads don’t spread the virus, but assembling in closed spaces like offices and marriage halls can,” said Dr Tariq Tramboo, an interventional pain specialist.
Meanwhile, the private transporters has gone on an indefinite strike on April 21 after government came out with Covid guidelines which among other things, allowed operations of public transport at 50% authorised seating capacity in J&K.
All J&K Transport Welfare Association chairman TS Wazir said, “We have been demanding hike in passenger fare to facilitate smooth operations by the transporters but government is not listening to us at all. The transporters are meeting again on Tuesday to take a decision. Plying our vehicles at 50% capacity with no hike in fare is impossible for us. I met the transport commissioner today but the stalemate continues.”