Coronavirus outbreak: Government may put offices on shifts, keep shops open alternate days

Updated: 19 March, 2020 08:32 IST | Sanjeev Shivadekar | Mumbai

With bureaucrats saying a total train and road transport shutdown will throw state machinery off gear, govt considers alternatives

People waiting for long-distance trains crowd CSMT. Pic/Ashish Raje
People waiting for long-distance trains crowd CSMT. Pic/Ashish Raje

With several public facilities in the city shutting over the last week amid the spread of Coronavirus, the fully functioning local trains remain the only major step between Mumbai and a full lockdown. With bureaucrats standing against the Cabinet's idea of shutting down rail and other public transports, the Maha Vikas Aghadi government is now strongly considering the introduction of staggered office timings for private companies and keeping shops closed on alternate days.

Chief minister Uddhav Thackeray on Wednesday evening chaired a high-level meeting with senior IAS officers to discuss a solution to reduce crowding in trains. The concept of having staggered timings and allowing shops to function on alternative days came up in response.

CM Uddhav Thackeray chaired crisis meets on Wednesday
CM Uddhav Thackeray chaired crisis meets on Wednesday

"Completely shutting rail and road transport is not an option we are looking at. But, yes, crowd management is certainly a priority," a senior cabinet minister on condition of anonymity.

Wednesday's meeting and the above suggestion follows an impasse in Tuesday's cabinet meeting. Sources told mid-day that while ministers from across party lines favoured a complete rail and road shutdown, senior IAS officers opposed the move on grounds that it will place an unprecedented burden on the state machinery.

People continue to throng railway stations despite the state's request to work from home. Pic/Ashish Raje
People continue to throng railway stations despite the state's request to work from home. Pic/Ashish Raje

"There was a suggestion to shut [transport] operations for at least two days," said another minister who participated in Tuesday's meeting. "While the ministers agreed, senior IAS officers asked: Can the state afford to keep the railways and transport system completely off for a long period?"

Twenty-four hours later, more ministers had started accepting the bureaucracy's view. "The officers said there is a difference between Mumbai and cities abroad. Foreign countries made provisions for food and other necessities for their citizens in advance, which is not possible in Maharashtra. Hence, a complete shutdown is not possible in India. A complete shutdown will also affect daily-wagers and their families. This was the reasoning of the bureaucrats."

By Wednesday evening, municipal commissioner Pravin Pardeshi issued another order. As per the circular, the assistant commissioner of each ward will identify roads on which all the shops and commercial activities are to be kept closed on alternative days to reduce crowds. Any person who fails to comply with these orders will be punished under section 188 of the IPC.

Another order from the civic chief mandates protective gear for all essential duties like solid waste management, sewer management, water supply and BEST buses.
A senior Mantralaya official said the idea will also help railways and other transport depts to scale down services.

34 lakh
Average passengers on WR every day

39 lakh
Average passengers on CR every day usually

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First Published: 19 March, 2020 06:50 IST

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