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Initial hiccup over, lockdown back on track in Assam

Policemen fire in air to disperse unruly mob

By Pranjal Baruah and Tejesh Tripathy in Bongaigaon and Guwahati
  • Published 29.03.20, 1:45 AM
  • Updated 29.03.20, 1:45 AM
  • 3 mins read
Men made to do sit-ups by police for flouting lockdown orders at Nagarbera in Kamrup district on Saturday. Picture by UB Photos

The lockdown to check the spread of coronavirus in Assam was brought back on track on Saturday, but the day was also marked by a worrying development: police-public clashes at a few places when the former tried to enforce the safety restrictions.

On Friday, a mad rush to the markets was witnessed all over the state after the administration said vegetable and fish markets would remain open. Not observing lockdown measures like social distancing forced the state government to promptly order closure of all markets except grocery shops and pharmacies and crack down on violators.

The scene improved on Saturday as there were few people on the streets as the civil administration and the police continued to crack down on violators and also finetuned measures to ensure that people stay at home and do not panic over availability of essentials. Home delivery options were also resorted to along with distribution of vegetables through mobile vans in most districts. But ground reports suggested these need scaling up for desired results.

However, there were police-public clashes where markets were open. Police fired at least eight rounds in the air to disperse people at Bhawlaguri- Boudibazar.

Superintendent of police Singha Ram Mili said: “After the police team found some shops open in Boudibazar, they asked the shopkeepers to down shutters. But people attacked the police by pelting stones and chasing us with sticks, forcing us to fire in the air to disperse the mob.”

There was no casualty, but at least seven persons were arrested by Bongaigaon police. The main accused, Anowar Hussain, is absconding.

The ADGP (law and order), G.P. Singh, who visited Bongaigaon and Dhubri, where two police personnel were attacked on Friday night, said the police would do whatever it takes to keep people of Assam safe. Two policemen sustained serious injuries when they were attacked by a crowd with bricks and sticks at Phalimari Bazar at Chapar in Dhubri district.

Chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal sent out a stern warning to the violators during an interaction with the media in Golaghat. “I am anguished at the reports of stone-pelting on our security personnel who were enforcing the lockdown for safety and security of the people, at some places….cooperate with security forces and maintain social distancing.”

However, in a letter to the DGP, Assam PCC president Ripun Bora said: “I think it will be better for the police to send them back politely instead of beating them up.”

Amid the crackdown, Dispur continued to streamline the delivery system of essentials to keep people indoors. Chief secretary Kumar Sanjay Krishna ordered sale of vegetables at 66 points in Guwahati by mobile vans. He directed the metro administration to increase the area of coverage.

“All the deputy commissioners of the state to issue gratuitous relief materials for ration seven days to the daily wage earners. living/stranded in the urban areas as per the norms of Assam Relief Manuals,” he added. Production units of bread, biscuits, packaged water, rice, chira and flour mills will continue production with minimum staff.

The police dug up a cricket pitch at Khatalpur in Paschim Gopalnagar in Hojai on Friday to prevent mass gathering. At Lumding’s Chanmari Basti ward no. 11, the police destroyed hoarded liquor. A group of youths from Nandapur distributed khichdi among underprivileged people.

Bordoloi suggestions

Senior Congress member and son of Lokapriya Gopinath Bordoloi, Bolin Bordoloi, suggested several steps, including involvement of local volunteers, for smooth implementation of the lockdown.

He suggested use of loudspeakers on every road and bylane at least once a day to warn the people to stay home. He suggested that shops permitted to open should have bold displays of the prices of essential commodities. He said the government should allot at least one NGO or voluntary unit of three persons for each residential area with provisions of transport, loudspeakers, soap and water to supervise the supply system. The government and local administration can announce a list of names with phone numbers and the allotted responsibilities of at least one controller of each location and ward to work with police, he added.

Additional reporting by Mukesh Kumar Singh in Dhubri, Nikhil Kumar Mundra in Hojai and Mohsin Khaiyam in Guwahati