From a lack of public transportation to ID cards, workers in essential services must overcome several obstacles while commuting to work.

PTI
Coronavirus Coronavirus Thursday, March 26, 2020 - 08:34

Food, water, transport, healthcare and sanitation are critical to sustaining a society or community, even during a pandemic. This means that the employees engaged in these services —milk, groceries, ration shops, LPG cylinders, fruits and vegetables and meat — should continue to commute to work to ensure a constant supply of these essentials.

Although Prime Minister Narendra Modi assured that essential services will continue to function throughout the 21-day nationwide lockdown period in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the movement of vehicles across the country is being strictly regulated. Public transportation, including state and private buses, have suspended operations, while auto-rickshaws plying in cities are being forced to stay off roads by the police. 

Incidentally, many employees engaged in essential services are dependent on public transportation to commute to work and back home. With the lockdown and regulations in the movement of vehicles, many are forced to either stay back at home or walk to get to work. 

For example, 52-year-old Lakshmi, a pourakarmika (sanitation worker) under the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), walked from GM Palya to Indiranagar to get to work on Wednesday. She used to take a bus from BEML Gate, get off at Indiranagar Police Station bus stop and walk for two minutes to get to the area where she works. 

“Since there are no buses, I walked close to 5 km for work,” she said, adding, “The BBMP contractor has reassured us that this issue will be tackled in a few days.” 

An employee with Indian Overseas Bank (IOB), who works at a branch in Secunderabad in Telangana, said that only those who had vehicles turned up for work on Wednesday. The bank did not impose any strict guidelines. 

"We carried our ID cards in case the police stopped us. Besides, the bank timings have been reduced from 10 am to 2 pm and two people are working on a rotational basis,” the bank employee told TNM.

“I take my own vehicle to go to the hospital,” said Dixon, who works in the accounts department of a private hospital in Ernakulam district of Kerala. “My colleagues who do not have private vehicles have been asked to take leave and stay at home. Besides, the hospital has limited the number of staff.” 

Movement of supplies disrupted

A kirana shop owner in Gachibowli, which is situated close to Hyderabad’s IT sector, told TNM that he faced restrictions from the police ever since the lockdown was announced in the state on Sunday. 

“I go in the morning to Lingampally (3.5 kms away from his shop) to get the day's supplies of vegetables and other groceries. But the police have put up barricades and are not letting us go through. What ID card can I show? Because of this, our entire stock of vegetables is over, although we are still able to get other supplies,” he said. 

"On Wednesday, after two to three days of the lockdown in Telangana, two autorickshaws carrying vegetables from Lingampally visited the colony and sold it directly to the customers instead of the kirana shops,” he said, “But I am glad everyone has been able to buy their groceries in some way.” 

The owner of a grocery shop in Chennai’s Anna Nagar, too, shared a similar situation. 

“The distributors of companies like Unilever and P&G do not have enough staff since many have gone to their native places. So, they want us to go to the warehouse and pick up the stocks. But when I stepped out, the police stopped me and it was hard to explain to them why and where I was going,” said the grocery shop owner. 

ID cards to commute

At a medical store in Thiruvananthapuram, Rahul, with a mask over his mouth, told TNM that three of his colleagues were not able to commute to work as they depend on public transport. “Two others did not have ID cards to prove they worked at a medical shop and had nothing to show to the police when they were stopped on their way to work. So the police issued them with affidavits,” said Rahul.

On day 1 of the lockdown on 25 March, Dixon had shown his hospital ID card while driving to his workplace. “However, private vehicles have now been asked to fill out an affidavit that asks details of the private vehicles and the driver and submit the same. I have furnished the form and plan to keep it with me when I commute,” he added.

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Wednesday said that in order to ensure that the staff in essential service sectors could commute, owners of these private establishments could apply for special passes online for their employees, if they did not have id cards.   

In Karnataka’s Bengaluru, traders have been asked to get permission slips from the nearest police station to commute to work and conduct businesses. “The process will become clear once we get these slips. There will also be clear directives issued on the timings of these shops," said Rammohan, who is part of the association of traders on Chinmaya Mission Hospital Road in Bengaluru.

In Telangana, officials are allowing government employees and those in essential service sectors to pass on showing the ID cards. 

In Tamil Nadu, however, the police are yet to decide on issuing such passes. “We are constantly giving instructions in all our checkpoints to not disturb or block vehicles that are carrying essential supplies. At district level, we have mooted the idea of issuing a vehicle pass, but it needs to be discussed at the state-level,” a senior police official in Tamil Nadu said.

“People will stop panic buying if they see we have enough stock of items. Hence, it is important to ensure there is a continuous supply of stocks,” added the grocery owner from Chennai.  

With inputs from Nitin B, Sreedevi Jayarajan, Cris, Prajwal Bhat, Theja Ram and Megha Kaveri