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Violence mars first day out of tight coronavirus lockdown

People line up without maintaining physical distance to buy liquor outside one the liquor shops which reopened Monday after six weeks lockdown on the outskirts of Mumbai,  (Photo: AP)Premium
People line up without maintaining physical distance to buy liquor outside one the liquor shops which reopened Monday after six weeks lockdown on the outskirts of Mumbai, (Photo: AP)

  • The government today partially eased movement curbs across all but the worst infection-hit areas in an attempt to restart its stalled economy
  • Liquor shops, closed for 40 days under the strict stay-at-home orders, also reopened allowing state govts to earn some much-needed tax revenue

NEW DELHI : Violence and chaos marred India’s first day of freedom from its stringent coronavirus lockdown as migrant workers clashed with police in Surat and brawls erupted outside liquor shops in the national capital.

The country on Monday partially eased movement curbs across all but the worst infection-hit areas in an attempt to restart its stalled economy. Liquor shops, closed for 40 days under the strict stay-at-home orders, also reopened allowing state governments to earn some much-needed tax revenue.

The prolonged lockdown has hit millions of daily wage earners and migrant workers across the nation of 1.3 billion as jobs and income dried up overnight, leaving them penniless and stranded in the cities where they work. With all forms of transport barred by the lockdown, many started a desperate walk back to their villages on foot and on bicycles.

Others have been stuck in the compounds of now-shuttered factories where anger has been brewing.

In Surat, an industrial and diamond processing hub in Gujarat, television footage showed police using tear gas to control crowds of angry workers, who pelted them with stones and demanded to be allowed to go home. Similar protests erupted in the city earlier in the lockdown.

The federal government announced it would start running special trains from May 1 to transport the stranded migrant workers. Local authorities will screen the passengers and only those found to be symptom-free would be allowed to travel, the home ministry said.

But some impoverished workers say they were made to pay a fare for their journeys, prompting Sonia Gandhi, the president of the opposition Congress Party, to announce her party would bear the cost for the migrants’ travels.

About 85% of the transport costs of the special trains was borne by Indian Railways, while the states must pay the remaining 15%, Lav Agarwal, a senior official of the health ministry said in New Delhi on Monday. All but two states were following the process, he said.

Alcohol fights

In New Delhi reports emerged of scuffles outside liquor shops, where thousands of people had started lining up even before they opened. Several shops had to shut down as police used batons to breakup the milling crowds. There were news reports of similar scenes playing out in Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh as well.

India’s easing of restrictions is primarily aimed at reviving its economy, which could be heading for its first full-year contraction in more than four decades, as the world’s biggest lockdown has crippled business activity and put a lid on consumption. It has also resulted in widespread job losses and pay cuts.

The country had eased some restrictions on April 20 to allow farmers and some industries to resume operations in rural areas and in districts that were free of infections.

The number of new infections being reported in the country has not fallen despite the 40-day lockdown. India had reported just over 600 infections and 10 deaths on March 25 when the strict curbs came into effect. It had the biggest single-day spike on May 3, recording as many as 2,800 new cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The country now has more than 42,670 infections, including more than 1,395 deaths.

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