NEWS
03/04/2020 7:20 PM IST | Updated 06/04/2020 10:17 AM IST

Scarce Supplies, Paramilitary On Streets: Goa Govt's Messy Lockdown Infuriates People

13 days into a lockdown in the state, residents are still struggling to access essentials supplies such as food and medicines.

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Paramilitary soldiers patrol along a street during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus in Goa on March 29, 2020. 

 On Thursday, actor and cancer survivor Nafisa Ali, who is currently in Goa, told PTI that she was running out of essential medicines and not able to access more.

“One could not go out to buy anything because the cops would stop you...whoever was trying to go anywhere would get hit,” Ali told PTI.

A day later, Goa government officials said they “established contact with her” and were helping her.

Ali is one of the lucky ones. 

Thirteen days after a lockdown to tackle the coronavirus pandemic began in the state, the Goa government has just begun easing supply chains to make essentials available to people.

Angry Goans and other residents of the state have been tweeting with the hashtags #GoaStarving and #goacovidcrisis, sharing stories of stores being shut, running out of food and medicines and facing police brutality while stepping out to get supplies since the lockdown began in the state on March 22. The national lockdown announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi began three days later.

The state has six Covid-19 patients so far.

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“For the first week of the lockdown, no one had access to anything. Slowly as shops began to open for a couple of hours every day, there were items like milk, biscuits, detergent and other essentials available. Since shops were open only for 3-4 hours a day, people would panic-buy and whatever supplies were available would be wiped out quickly,” said Jade D’sa, a food and travel blogger who lives in North Goa’s Saligao.

The rush at stores meant that the reason for the lockdown, for people to keep a distance from each other, wasn’t achieved anyway.

In its overzealousness to keep people at home, the government also called in the paramilitary to control people’s movement on the streets. 

Videos have circulated online of CISF personnel assaulting people and making them do frog jumps on the streets.

On Monday, the Goa State Human Rights Commission issued a notice to the state government on a petition filed by a group of social activists objecting to the deployment of two CISF battalions to enforce the lockdown. 

Among the worst affected because of the lockdown have been migrant labourers.

Shahidul Islam is one of the hundreds of labourers from Assam who have been stuck without access to food at Verna village in South Goa

The unexpected announcement of the lockdown meant that they were not able to buy any supplies in advance while being forced to stay at home.

“First we heard it would be three days and then it became 21 days. I was working on the night shift that first day. By the time I left, all the stores were shut,” said Islam, who works as a security guard on a contract basis.

He shares a rented accommodation with six other migrant workers and said they had survived on just rotis made from aata, the only thing they had left at home.

CM Pramod Sawant’s response to people’s worries seems to involve some gaslighting. “If tomorrow the virus spreads in Goa, spreads in a big way, please do not blame the government. The responsibility to protect yourself and your family is now on you,” he said at a press conference last week.

He claimed that the grocery shops had been kept shut for people’s own good and that some ‘vignsantoshi’ people were making allegations against him on social media and elsewhere.

Constantly changing rules

Residents have been frustrated with the everchanging rules announced by the state government, confusing people and shop owners about what they could and could not do.

“People are on the roads due to the confusion caused by the constantly changing announcements about essential commodities and services, without systematic access to food. Their desperation levels are high. To blame this situation on the people is to absolve the state’s own responsibility,” Goa People’s Voices COVID19 Response member Albertina Almeida wrote in a letter to the CM signed by over 180 people.  

Goa Forward Party chief Vijai Sardesai on Tuesday demanded that the state government form an all-party state advisory committee to tackle the coronavirus crisis in the state. He said that the BJP government in the state had failed to recognise the gravity of the health emergency and was busy with zilla panchayat election till March 24.

Even BJP leaders Utpal Parrikar and Sidharth Kuncalienkar have acknowledged that there has been a shortage of food and groceries. “Ground reality is it is difficult to get supplies,” Parrikar told IANS this week.

On March 28, day seven of lockdown in the state, Sawant said that grocery shops would remain open 24x7 and urged people to opt for the home-delivery mechanism promoted by the government. Responses to his tweet were filled with complaints of stores running out supplies and the phone numbers issued for home delivery not working.

On March 31, The Indian Express’s Smita Nair reported that the government had announced a series of measures to ease the supply chain and issue transit passes so that commodities could reach people, particularly the elderly and those stranded without food.

But D’sa said there was no milk, curd and wheat flour anywhere in the village of Saligao on April 1. 

While the government said it had set up kitchens to feed labourers, Islam said they were not aware of any such facilities.

“When the stores opened on Tuesday, we were able to buy some rice and vegetables for the first time since the lockdown began,” he said. “We have enough for a few days now but we’ll have to wait and see what happens after that.”

Islam said he and a few others got money from their contractor to buy food when the shops opened.

People helping people

“It has largely been a case of people looking after each other, rather than the authorities or the government,” D’sa said.

“Dairy, eggs, meat, fruits and veggies, bread etc were unavailable for a very long time. Now, people are procuring things like bread and eggs in bulk and distributing it among neighbours or people living in their building complexes,” she said.

Jayesha, who volunteers at the Goa Humanitarian helpline run by civilians, said she went out to get medicines after someone reached out to her on Twitter.

“He told me that his old father is alone, he’s just recovered from surgery and is a diabetic and needed insulin. My friend and I went out and got those medicines for him and now we’re in regular touch with him in case he needs something.”

“I know none of us are supposed to be breaking curfew and we’re supposed to stay home but if you get a call like that, you have to go out of the house and stand in line at a pharmacy,” she said.

The Goa Humanitarian helpline focuses on SOS calls, particularly from elderly people or people who haven’t been able to eat for a few days, and its volunteers who have transit passes travel to arrange supplies to take it to them.

The helpline also has an area-wise lists of groceries shops that are open and their contacts, directs callers to their local panchayat member or the grocery shops.

Jayesha, who live in Porvorim near Panjim, said, “I know I speak from privilege when I say I’m not running low anything. Availability in stores has been less. We step out once at 9am and once at 6 pm just to know what’s open or what is available.” 

Since April 1, as more shops opened, Jayesha said she was able to get some atta for the first time in days on Wednesday.

“But just because supplies are coming in doesn’t mean everyone has access,” she said.

And the worry is that supplies in stores will not last.

“If we had some sort of assurance that when you go to the shop there will be stuff, it would easier to deal with. Because then I wouldn’t feel encouraged and motivated to break curfew, go out and see what’s there and stand in three different queues and get very little out of it.”