What dos and don'ts should people in Maharashtra follow with the state government notifying The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 lockdown orders?
Prasanna D Zore explains.
As citizens are gripped with confusion over what to do and what not to do during the curfew imposed by the Maharashtra government in the state, the police are battling a flurry of fake messages on social media that are leading to panic and misinformation.
While the Mumbai police has already tweeted the state government's notification issued by the department of revenue and forests, disaster management dated March 23 that clearly chalks the regulations and measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 pandemic, confusion still reigns among the people.
The notification issued under section 2 of The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, read along with the enabling provisions of The Disaster Management Act, 2005, clearly states that 'residents shall stay at home and come out only for permitted activities while strictly maintaining social distancing norms.'
This notification does not mention any restriction on movement of people who can come out of their homes to buy essential goods and services.
'This notification has authorised district collectors, district superintendents of police, commissioners of police, municipal commissioners of corporations and other competent authorities to take all necessary measures in a humane and judicious manner for enforcement and implementation of the aforesaid regulations and measures.'
However, it also states that 'Any person, institution or organisation violating any provisions of these regulations shall be dealt with under the provisions of The Epidemic Diseases Act, 19897, The Disaster management Act, 2005, other relevant Acts and regulations there under.
"We are regularly updating the Mumbai police's twitter handle (@MumbaiPolice) and people should not believe in fake messages on social media," says Pranay Ashok, deputy commissioner of police (operations), Mumbai police.
"We have issued a common advisory as per the instructions and announcements made by the Maharashtra government," adds DCP Ashok. "That notification is being widely shared using social media so that it reaches all the people and news media too can use that notification to clear the doubt of their viewers and readers."
"All people must strictly follow the curfew rules. All people must stay indoors and help fight the spread of covid-19," emphsises DCP Ashok.
While insisting that the Mumbai police has not fixed any time during which residents can come out to buy essential goods and services, DCP Ashok says, "people should not unnecessarily move out. Under Section 144 those found moving around in groups of four or five people will be strictly dealt with."
"There is no restriction on timing when people should come out to buy milk, bread or other food grains and vegetables," says Vijay Bhimrao Belge, senior police inspector, Andheri, north west Mumbai.
"They should only take care that they don't roam around in groups of four or five while going out for shopping. In the morning, when the shops are open, people can venture out and buy essential goods," says Inspector Belge.
"There is no time restriction on when people should come out to buy essential goods. At times, our patrolling vehicles request people not to come out of their homes unnecessarily to avoid coming into contact with each other," the inspector adds.
"People should discipline themselves to not come out unnecessarily; they should sit at home and quarantine themselves. The same message has been issued by the state administration and the chief minister," says Inspector Belge.
Responding to reports about the police questioning people or beating them up for coming out of homes to buy essentials, Inspector Belge says, "The police are not stopping people from coming out to buy necessities, but if somebody is stopped by the police they should explain their genuineness and they will not face any problems."
Talking about the confidence building measures and efforts undertaken by the police to create awareness and discourage people from venturing out unnecessarily, Inspector Belge says, "Our patrol vehicles are addressing people's concerns by announcing through loudspeakers about what they should do and should not. We are encouraging people to be safe and look after their family's safety."
"People who are gathering outside stores like DMart have been advised to maintain a distance of at least four feet and make their purchases by maintaining the discipline of queues," he says.
The state government notification has exempted from restrictions shops/establishments providing essential goods and services, like banks, ATMs, sale of food items, groceries, sale of milk, bread, fruits, vegetables, eggs, meat, fish, and their transport and warehousing facilities, bakery and veterinary establishments for pets, take-away/home delivery at restaurants, e-commerce (delivery) of essential goods including food, pharmaceuticals, and medical equipment.
While the Maharashtra government has sealed inter-state and inter-district borders, the notification issued has exempted vehicles carrying supply chain and transport of essential commodities.
"We have made provisions to stop all vehicular traffic near cities and towns so that there is no inconvenience to drivers of these vehicles," says Superintendent of Police, HSP, Nagpur, Sanjay Shintre.
According to SP Shintre, Telangana has stopped all vehicular traffic 25 km inside the state adjoining Maharashtra and "we have stopped all vehicles 7 km inside the state on roads going towards Andhra Pradesh."
"Vehicular traffic along highways passing through Nagpur is scarce. Only vehicles that ferry emergency services and foods and perishable commodities are seen on the road," he says.
However, he adds, "We don't see too many restrictions being strictly imposed on traffic in Madhya Pradesh's border areas. Traffic coming from Chhattisgarh has come to a complete standstill."
"Policemen are regularly patrolling the interiors of the (Nagpur) district and strictly imposing the curfew regulation. They are not allowing people to venture out unnecessarily," says SP Shintre.
"At times, the police uses mild force to discourage people from crowding at places. Those wandering out aimlessly have been warned enough that strict action will be taken against them. This has helped discourage people from venturing out," he adds.
"Local SPs have asked groceries and other essential commodities shops to remain open for fixed time and accordingly informed people to make provisions accordingly. Different SPs have issued different orders to discourage people from assembling at one place in large numbers."