Delhi comes to terms with lockdown as police, govt rush to residents’ aid
The helpline — 011-23469526 — is run round-the-clock by a team of police personnel from the third floor of the Delhi Police headquarters.Updated: Apr 25, 2020 18:08 IST
Since a national lockdown was imposed from March 25 to contain the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19), residents of Delhi have turned to the police, making over 28,000 calls to its helpline, for issues ranging from procuring essentials to traffic restrictions.
As per the data, most of the calls — 18,299 of the 28,472 over the last 30 days — were to inquire about curfew passes and movement restrictions. Distress calls, reporting of hunger, non-availability of vegetables, and calls by elderly citizens, who said they were alone and helpless, constituted a majority of the rest.
There were some unusual calls too, such as one from west Delhi, wherein the caller claimed to have found a cure for Covid-19. The caller, a man, said the disease could be cured by consuming pulp from a tree outside his house. In another call, a resident from north-east Delhi had reported that a nilgai (blue-bull) had entered a field behind his house in Uttar Pradesh and he needed a curfew pass to chase it away.
The helpline — 011-23469526 — is run round-the-clock by a team of police personnel from the third floor of the Delhi Police headquarters.
While the police received over 150 calls pertaining to hunger and non-availability of food items during the initial days of the lockdown, the number of such distress calls has reduced to around 10-15 over the last few days. On Thursday, police received only two hunger-related distress calls.
After the voluntary people’s curfew ended at 9pm on March 22, the Delhi Police imposed prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the CrPC, banning movement of more than five persons in the city. The borders were subsequently sealed and vehicular movement was suspended, barring those used in essential services.
Delhi has been in lockdown since March 24, as chief minister Arvind Kejriwal had made an announcement for the capital a day before Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered a nationwide lockdown from March 25.
“Most calls to the helpline were related to passes and movement of vehicles. We get more than 500 such calls every day. The volume of such calls touched a high of 778 on April 14, which was the end of the 21-day lockdown. People called from across the city wanting to know if they would be allowed to drive after April 14. The calls again increased on April 20 (749), when other states called relaxed norms,” a police officer said.
Besides the police helpline, the Delhi government’s dedicated Covid-19 helplines — 22391014, 2301028, 22302441, 22307133, 22304568, 22307745, 22307135, 22307145, 22300012, 22300036 — also received similar calls, senior government officials said.
“The 10 lines are receiving 900 calls on an average, every day. Some call to report cases, others do so to get themselves tested. We also get a large number of queries with regard to ration, shelters and cooked meals. In that case, we connect their calls to the lines concerned,” a senior government official said, on the condition of anonymity.
While many states have relaxed norms by allowing industries, highway hotels and self-employed plumbers, electricians, and mechanics to resume work, the Delhi government has not given any relaxation because of the increase in the number of Covid-19 hot spots. Until Friday evening, Delhi had 90 containment zones, 2,514 positive cases, and 53deaths.
In the first week of the lockdown, the helpline received over 150 calls related to hunger or non-availability of food. The volume of such calls peaked on March 29 (188 calls), when migrant workers from across the city started walking to their homes in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan and Bihar. The workers were leaving the city after their factories shut. On the afternoon of March 29, the police stopped the migrant workers from leaving and took them to shelter homes across the city where food was provided by the Delhi government and the city police.
Asif Mohd Ali, a deputy commissioner of police, who is managing the helpline, said, “Across the city, we have tied up with NGOs and Good Samaritans to feed the needy. The number of hunger calls is gradually decreasing. We will ensure that no one sleeps hungry in Delhi. The moment we get a distress call, we immediately assign it to the police station and the NGO concerned. So far, Delhi has delivered around six million food packets to the needy. We will continue this.”
So far, the Delhi government has set up at 2,083 hunger relief centres across the city to provide free cooked lunch and dinner. Last week, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, in an address through a video call, had said his government is providing free cooked meals to at least one million people per day.
The government is also giving five kilograms of free dry ration to about four million residents, who do not have ration cards, besides the 7.5kg ration being given to 7.1 million cardholders, for free.
The helpline received 60 calls from elderly citizens, who lived alone and wanted help from the police to get essential items or requiring medical assistance. In one such call, a 78-year-old man, who lived alone in Rohini, called the helpline informing that he was a diabetic patient and was in pain, because his stock of medicines was over. A police constable duly delivered the medicines to him.
In March-end, the helpline was also flooded with calls from citizens who wanted to be united with their families living in other parts of the city. After recording around 100 such calls in the first few days, the volume of such calls has decreased. “We advised such callers to stay at home, as it is a safer option. They understood it,” Ali said.
Sanjay Kumar, a professor and the director of the Centre for Study of Developing Studies, said that Delhi residents have responded well to the lockdown and followed the government directives. “If 500 people have called the helpline for passes, I have no reason to doubt their genuineness. Delhi is a large city. People are bound to have their compulsions to step out of their homes. I can say that people took the lockdown in good spirit also because of the fear. People realised how developed countries failed in their response. The fear factor was high among the middle class.”
However, Kumar says that a decrease in the number of hunger-related calls may not reveal the entire story. “I saw reports of police cutting cake for elderly residents in lockdown and other similar reports or feeding the needy. This may be just 10% of the actual cases. Police are also not to blame because they have other primary stuff, such as law and order and managing containment zones, to handle. On the government’s role, the response is better than other places. But it may also be because Delhi is smaller than other states. Leaving aside the data on hunger, from the reports we have read or seen, it is clear that the police and government did their best.”