While Mumbaikars embraced Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for a Janata Curfew a day earlier, on Monday – with a lockdown in force and local train services suspended – there was cause for concern as many people began stepping out of their homes in neighbourhoods across the city to stock up on groceries and other essentials.
Despite repeated warnings from the state government to avoid non-essential travel and to take the coronavirus threat seriously, there were massive traffic jams at the entry points to the city, particularly at the Thane-Mulund toll naka. As images of the bumper-to-bumper traffic at Mulund toll naka began circulating on social media, several Mumbaikars posted messages online urging people to be more responsible.
State housing minister and senior NCP leader Jitendra Awhad posted images on Twitter of the hundreds of private vehicles in queue on Monday morning. Tagging Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, Awhad tweeted, `Your work is appreciated, but many people are not serious. Many do not understand how serious the problem is. It doesn’t seem like a lockdown will be enough; impose a curfew.”
Despite section 144 of the CrPC being in force, many people were seen out on the street across Mumbai, most of them heading to local groceries stores and vegetable venders to stock up on essentials.
"We knew there will be a lockdown, but didn't imagine it would be this soon. Hence it's important to stock things up, as we need to store adequate quantities of food," said Jitesh Desai, a man who was out shopping at Link Road, Malad (West).
"The sudden lockdown is only creating panic. The state should have given a window of two days," said Diksha Jain, a resident of Kandivli, who had also ventured out of home to buy groceries.
Queues were seen outside departmental stores, and all sections – from edibles and groceries to utensils and stationary – of the store appeared crowded with customers. In many areas, grocery stores had shut their grills to keep out large crowds, and people were seen buying groceries by shouting out their orders to the shopkeepers inside.
"Since morning there has been an influx of customers. People are mostly buying stuff out of panic fearing this lockdown," said a staffer at D-Mart in Malad (West), who did not wish to be named.
"We have procured stock on Saturday, but it seems, from the way people are buying out things, the stock won't last for more than two days," he added.
"People are crowding here in large numbers. Many of the products have become out of stock. There is a lockdown outside, owing to which freight services are charging double the usual rate. Labour is also not available, due to which there will be a problem of replenishing stocks," said a staffer at the grocery section of a Big Bazaar outlet at Malad (West).
A grocer at V P Road, Andheri (West) had lesser supplies of vegetables than usual at his store as fresh stock had not arrived. “Vegetables usually come from Vashi market to Dadar. However, today, the usual truck did not arrive and we had to get vegetables from the Dadar market. There was a scarcity of coriander and mint leaves as those vendors who reached the market earlier got them. The rates of vegetables have increased due to the situation. Cabbage which sells at Rs. 60/kg usually, now sells at Rs. 80/kg. The prices of onion, potato and tomato have also risen,” said the grocer, who did not wish to be named.
Some residents in Goregaon (East) ventured out of their homes at 6 am on Monday to buy essential products like milk and bread. By 7:30 am, the stock of milk packets in a few shops that were open was exhausted.
Anil Sawant, a resident, said, "I went at 7:30 am to buy milk for my family; but there were only two packets left. I saw a man holding five packets of milk. During this crucial time, we have got to think of others and not hoard."
Suresh Parabh, a shopkeeper in the area said, "We are planning to sell a maximum of two packets (1 litre) of milk per customer every day. We cannot refuse any customer, but people should be considerate."
Many in Dahisar and Borivali were seen ignoring the government’s instructions. While most of the shops in these areas remained closed, people thronged vegetable vendors and grocery shops. Several people were also seen standing around and chatting on the streets in groups, violating the imposition of CrPC 144.
After spotting some of the residents openly defying government orders, local police reprimanded them, asking them to stay indoors. The police were forced to use public address systems to warn people that they would face a jail term of six months, a fine of Rs 1000, or both if they are caught outdoors.
Fearing police action, grocery stores in the area have asked customers to place their orders over the phone and collect them in an hour to avoid crowding at their shops.
In many areas, children were seen playing outdoors without masks, prompting the police to warn their parents.
Several housing societies in Dahisar and Borivali have stopped the entry of domestic help. "We don't know how many days this will go on. This is our only source of earning. With this lockdown, we cannot work at any household, as we are being prevented from entering housing societies. My sister in Kandivali and many others I know are also facing the same problem," said Ananta S, a resident of Dahisar, who works as a domestic help.
Meanwhile, the use of bus services run by the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport undertaking (BEST) and the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) was restricted only to those whose jobs were related to delivery of essential services, there were several private vehicles seen on the city’s roads.