In Kolkata, people attach fake stickers to windshields, raising the danger of community transmission
By Chirag Datta
Kolkata: India is in the midst of a public-health crisis and the most comprehensive lockdown ever, yet people are using fake identifications to freely move around Kolkata. In so doing, they not only endanger public health but waste public resources and make life so much more difficult for genuine healthcare workers and other providers of essential services.
As the government allows deliveries of essential items of consumption, people use the ID of delivery vehicles to travel around the city and avoid being apprehended by the police. They attach stickers reading ‘Medicine’, ‘Food delivery’, ‘Grain supply’, ‘Press’, ‘Army’ to the windshields of vehicles or wear T-shirts of food, medicines, daily essentials suppliers to find a way around the lockdown. They have become a very real source of community transmission of the virus.
“Life gets very boring in this lockdown,” says Sunny Choudhury, a young tattoo artist. “There’s no work to do, neither is there a way to keep ourselves busy. Going out seems to be the only way to breathe. I use the T-shirt of a food delivery app to go out to visit my friends. As these delivery services are allowed, it’s easy to deceive the police. Even if they do stop you, they will let you go after you answer a few basic questions.“
Trideep Basu, a government employee, says he has no other option but to go out using a false permit. The area where he resides lies outside the city has been categorised as a ‘hotspot’ so no delivery services reach there. He uses an ‘Emergency medicine’ sticker to go out without being stopped by the police. “I have to go out to get medicine, food, withdraw or deposit money, and many other reasons are there,” explains Basu.
“In such a crisis, no delivery services are ready to extend their coverage. For people residing near or in the city, it is easy to procure daily essentials. But for us living on the outskirts, life is more difficult that it has ever been. The government doesn’t care for us.”
As many as 980 people were arrested in Kolkata within the space of 24 hours for flouting lockdown orders. The police recently intensified checks on vehicles plying on city roads and arrested an ambulance driver and six migrant laborers who were being ferried in the vehicle meant for patients near a checkpoint at the southern end of EM Bypass near Patuli. The seven arrests were among 1,780 people who were taken into custody last week for flouting the lockdown. The total number of people arrested in Kolkata is 5,916. About 148 vehicles have been seized.
As Mahuya Biswas, Additional Officer in Charge of the Parnasree police station, explains, “People think we are keeping them in quarantine, which is not the case. We need people to self-quarantine themselves. Police is exposed to the virus more than citizens as we always have to be on the ground. Not only are people jeopardizing their lives by flouting the lockdown, but they are also putting us and their community at risk. We take severe action against such people for their own, our, and public safety. But awareness is needed more than force.”
The Indian Penal Code, under Sections 269 and 270, prescribes prison sentences between six months to two years for “negligent and malignant acts likely to spread infection and disease,” but that doesn’t seem to deter some people. Nor the fact that, as of 3 pm on April 17, 2020, 13,387 people across India have been infected with Covid-19 resulting in 437 deaths.