Can you go to office? Can you drive your car across to the next state, or the next city? Can you take public transport? Can you even get a haircut?
On March 25, the day India imposed the lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease, the answer to all these questions was a resounding no. There was one rule, and all citizens had to abide by the restrictions.
Today, even as lockdown 4.0 has got officially extended to May 31, the answer to the questions is — depends; depends on where you are and which state jurisdiction has adopted what rules.
So if you are in Delhi, you can’t get a hair cut and will have to live with that long beard or unkempt look for some more time, but if you are in Thiruvananthapuram, you can walk into a salon. If you are in Gururgram or Noida, you can drive down to Delhi — but if you are in Delhi, you may not be able drive back to Gurugram or Noida. If you are in Bengaluru, you can work in office at full capacity. But if you have an office in Mumbai, your office can only have one-third of the staff. If you are in Kolkata and need to take a quick auto ride with your spouse, both of you can hop in to one auto rickshaw. But if you are in Delhi, both of you will have to take two separate autos.
This, often bewildering, set of rules symbolises lockdown 4.0. Advocates say it is a better reflection of local realities, with states now having the power to decide zones and extent of activity in each area; others believe that this creates confusion for individuals, companies, and even local government authorities.
A company’s office in Delhi or Bengaluru may have started functioning from Tuesday but its office in the business capital of India, Mumbai, has remained closed, due to the lockdown. Maharashtra government has decided to enforce lockdown 3.0 regulations in Mumbai, in which only 33% of workers are allowed in non-containment areas. Eighteen of the 27 municipal corporations in the state, including all in and around Mumbai, are in the red zone, thereby restricting movement of people.
“It (restrictions in Mumbai) has created some functional problems for us, as our head office is in Mumbai,” said a Bengaluru-based systems analyst, Srinivasa Murthy, working with a multinational information technology company. Most companies had to introduce city-specific working protocols as lockdown norms are not same in all cities. “It has added to our work but we have to deal with it,” commented an HR manager in a second Bengaluru-based IT company, who was not willing to be quoted as she was not authorised to speak to media.
Or take public transport.
After 56 days, public transport — buses, cabs and auto rickshaws — returned to many cities, with different city norms. In Kolkata, only 20 passengers per bus are allowed. In Bengaluru, buses can run up to half of its capacity. Autos in Bengal can carry two passengers and in Delhi only one. But the ease in restrictions has often not translated into passengers, for there appears to be caution.
Or take inter-state travel.
While Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana governments have allowed inter-state travel, the administrations in Noida and Gurugram have prohibited it. In Maharashtra, even inter-district travel is difficult. One cannot enter Mumbai from the neighbouring areas of Navi Mumbai and Thane. Given the dense interlinkages that exist between these urban centres, life for many has come to a standstill even if one has to hop across to an adjacent area for work, medical purposes, or family visits.
There is an even bigger issue with long-distance travel, with citizens at a loss in the absence of clarity. KC Jain, a cancer survivor, living in Vishal Khand area of Lucknow, wanted to drive down to Jodhpur to bring his wife back. He applied for an e-pass, which was rejected. He does not know whom to approach and whether he will be allowed to travel without a pass in lockdown 4.0. “My wife is stuck in Rajasthan for nearly two months and I want to get her back,” he said.
Or take those whose importance in keeping up appearances has firmly got established in this era of lockdown and social distancing — barbers and salons.
Kerala and Punjab have allowed barber shops. Delhi and Mumbai have not. Uttarakhand and Rajasthan have come up with strict conditions — only one person is to be allowed inside a barber shop at a time and there must be proper provision of masks, sanitisers and thermal scanners. Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh will allow salons and barber shops from Thursday. Where salons are open, hair cuts are allowed — but not facial services.
And the experience of a hair cut itself has changed, for both the customer and the barber. Joseph Mathew walked into a salon in Thiruvananthapuram carrying his own towel, for a haircut, his first during the lockdown, and was surprised to find his barber was covered from head to toe in a protective gear. “I never imagined such a scene,” he said, as two customers got their hair done in distant corners. In normal days, he would have entered the packed air-conditioned saloon and waited for his turn on a sofa watching local Malayalam entertainment channels.
Abhay Girdhar, owner of a Ludhiana based salon, said they are not providing services related to “skin and body” to avoid direct contact with the customers. “The customers are also not allowed to enter without masks and shoe covers. Also no one is allowed to accompany the person who gets the appointment,” he said, laying out his own sub set of rules to a state wide rule within a broad national framework.
And that is why, in this new phase of lockdown 4.0, if you want to get a hair cut, if you want to visit a friend, if you want to go to work, if you want to drive across a few states to meet your parents, check the rules first. Your location will determine your freedom.