Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXX No. No. 16, December 16-31, 2020
We are not out of the woods as yet as far as Covid 19 is concerned. But it cannot be denied that numbers are falling at present. The State is reporting around 1,200 cases a day, of which about a third is from Chennai. Once again, the statistics are encouraging in the city as well. It is in the light of this that the continued locking up of the beach and the parks remained a puzzle, especially when closed-door venues for entertainment and relaxation had already been opened up. It finally required the High Court to intervene – a matter as simple as allowing us access to our open spaces needed legal recourse!
The Marina and other beaches, as well as parks in the city became out of bounds to people in March, when the lockdown was announced. At that time this announcement made sense, it being in line with the closing down of other places of public congregation including cinema halls, places of worship, gymnasiums and clubs. Even then, there was a section of influencers such as doctors that did state that keeping parks and beaches open was not harmful and could actually provide people under an enforced and prolonged lockdown outlet for recreation. After all they argued, these were open air spaces and so had lesser risk of spread of the virus.
Since then, the actions of the Government were nothing short of puzzling. Over the various phases of the unlock process, places of worship, gymnasiums, clubs, hotels and restaurants, and cinema theatres opened up. Even wedding halls were back in business and even though they were officially not supposed to cater to more than 200 people at a time, reality pointed at much larger figures, an aspect that the authorities chose to turn the proverbial blind eye to. It must be pointed out here that all of these sectors had associations and pressure groups that successfully lobbied with the administration.
Parks and beaches were another matter altogether. Despite all the openings up listed above, these lungs of the city remained firmly shut. At the Marina, the police began permitting people to walk on the promenade but the sunken road behind and the sands were off limits. This enforced overcrowding on the walkway while a perfectly good parallel stretch that could have shared the load remained closed. The citizens did not seem overly concerned about the continued lockdown of these open spaces but the vendors at the Marina began repeatedly requesting the Government to open the place up, citing loss of livelihood. The High Court of Madras asked the authorities about plans to allow access to the beach. The Corporation said it had no objection and that it was up to the State Government. The Additional Advocate General informed the Court that the beaches would remain closed till November 30. And then, finally, it was announced that the long awaited opening would be on December 14th.
This reluctance to open up these recreation spots is mysterious. It is most likely that with an election looming large, the authorities were extremely cautious about making available any space where people could congregate and raise protests. The memory of the Jallikattu gatherings may still be fresh in the minds of the powers that be. But even if that were to be the reason, it is unfortunate that the lay public, chafing for long under lockdown, economic hardships and fear of infection, apart from loss of near and dear ones to the pandemic, were denied access to spaces where they could relax and be rejuvenated. It is not everyone who could afford to go to gymnasiums and clubs to be fit. The State Government has a moral responsibility to keep the parks and beaches open. And it us up to us citizens to ensure they remain that way.