New Delhi: Several Delhi residents looking to score a tipple Monday found their hopes dashed as police shut down liquor shops across the capital after their reopening drew heavy crowds.
Liquor shops across India resumed operations Monday after staying shut for 40 days amid a nationwide lockdown to check Covid-19 spread. The lockdown remains in place until 17 May, after the central government announced a second extension last week, but several restrictions have been eased, including those pertaining to liquor shops and other commercial establishments.
Although Delhi is a red zone, which suggests a higher level of infection threat and warrants greater precautions, the Arvind Kejriwal government issued a directive Sunday allowing certain liquor sellers (those who function from standalone neighbourhood shops or premises in residential complexes) to resume sales.
The decision seemed to backfire Monday as hordes of people gathered at the shops right from morning hours.
Since the crowds constituted a violation of social-distancing norms believed key to preventing Covid-19, the Delhi Police moved in and forced vendors to down shutters within hours, even as customers waited outside.
‘No social distancing’
ThePrint visited several liquor shops Monday afternoon and found them all shut.
Subhash Chandra, a Delhi resident who works at a bank near a liquor vend in north Delhi’s Daryaganj, said the “shop opened around 10 am and was shut down at 12.30 pm”.
“Only 100-200 people managed to get their liquor. The queue extended to the middle of this road, till the bank where I work,” he added.
The story was much the same in other parts of Delhi. “There was a huge crowd of over 1,000 people that gathered here before 9 am,” said Raja Babu, who was waiting outside a liquor shop in central Delhi’s Karol Bagh. “The station house officer (SHO) had to come here and shut down the shop at 11.20 am. Police told the crowd that the shop will open again tomorrow and it’s being shut down due to lack of social distancing.”
Babu said it was his second round to the shop to check if it’s open.
“There were social-distancing markers for about 100 people but a crowd of over 1,000 had gathered here so we had to shut down the shop,” said Rahul Tyagi, a Delhi Police constable keeping vigil outside the Karol Bagh shop.
“There was no social distancing being followed. In fact, shops across Delhi have shut because of overcrowding,” he added.
As ThePrint was talking to people, a huge crowd gathered around the shop and police had to disperse the people back to their homes in the next lane. Several cars stopped by too, presumably to check if the shop had reopened.
‘Risking your own safety’
When this reporter visited three shops at Paharganj, DB Gupta Road and New Delhi Railway Station around 2 pm, all had their shutters down, as was the case at a Defence Colony store.
Over at South Delhi’s Vasant Vihar, a huge queue had gathered at Block C market where one liquor shop was open. After the shop was shut down, police were found dispersing the crowd with sticks. A crowd of at least 100 was still gathered in the neighbourhood when this reporter visited the shop at 3 pm.
“I have been standing in queue since 11 am. Now, they have shut down the shop and I didn’t get to buy anything,” said Veer Bhan, a Munirka resident. “There was a crowd of about 300 when I arrived and then it soon swelled into thousands.”
Maneesh Kumar, another Delhi resident, claimed he found a scene of chaos “when I came here at 10 am”.
“This is utter mismanagement on the part of the authorities. It’s not just here, it’s the same in Munirka, Kishanganj. We were trying to maintain social distancing but it was impossible,” he said. “People from Munirka, too, landed here after the shops there shut early. I don’t think I’ll come back tomorrow because I don’t want to endanger my life like this.”
Nahnu Ram, a Delhi Police official deployed in the Public Works Department, said they had to “control the crowds and shut the shop”. “We are waiting for orders on how to tackle the crowd tomorrow,” he added.
Later in the day, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal pointed out that “there was no social distancing at several shops” and asked Delhi residents to be more careful. “You are only risking your own lives by crowding around shops. Please ensure social distancing of at least 2 metres from Tuesday,” he said.
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