Melee ensues outside cash distribution centres despite lockdown

With just 45 female officials, Hyderabad police struggles to discipline crowd

​ Our Correspondent April 11, 2020

HYDERABAD: After the arguably lax enforcement of the lockdown in Sindh, cash distribution points and the ATMs of a private bank providing the federal cash grants are being deluged by beneficiaries.

The law enforcement agencies in Hyderabad appeared ill-prepared to enforce the health advisory of social distancing as hundreds of women turned up at each of the dozens of locations to receive grants under the Ehsaas Programme. As many as 22 distribution centres, out of 42 planned for Hyderabad, began releasing grants on Friday, the second day of the exercise. On the first day, just one centre in Qasimabad town was opened, releasing grants to over 730 women.

Although social distancing guidelines were implemented inside the centres, a melee was witnessed outside them, as well as at the ATMs.

With a staff of only 45 female police officials, more than half of whom were deployed at the courts, the Hyderabad police found it difficult to discipline the crowd.

"If these were men instead of the women, the police would have enforced the advisory," said Hyderabad SSP Adeel Hussain Chandio while talking to The Express Tribune. He said that the policemen, nevertheless, tried their best to convince the women to maintain distances among themselves.

According to him, the district police are already stretched thin with over 2,000 deployed at quarantine and isolation centres, ration distribution points and district entry and exit points, besides those enforcing the lockdown. He added that 200 policemen have been deployed at the Ehsaas Programme's distribution centres.

An official of the district administration, who asked not to be named, held the federal government responsible for the situation. "They aren't just letting people crowd spots, in complete disregard of the threat of the coronavirus, the distribution centres are also violating the lockdown," he complained.

The official said while the lockdown was relaxed for nine hours, from 8am to 5pm, the distribution centres worked for 12 hours, from 7am to 7pm. "What's also happening is that cash disbursement starts late, by 10:30am, while people start to gather outside the centres by as early as 7am," he claimed, adding that other problems, such as slow internet connections, also hindered the process.

Another official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, contended that the idea of gathering hundreds or thousands of people at particular location itself was a blatant violation of the lockdown, being committed by the government itself.

"The government could instead have used its postal service for door-to-door delivery of the grant or they could call the beneficiaries and allot them a certain time and date to visit the centre to receive the cash," he suggested.

Meanwhile, an official of the private bank, on condition of anonymity, said they also felt that the beneficiaries lining up outside ATMs were being exposed to the virus. He added that the district administration had also conveyed similar complaints to the bank.

"We have suggested to our top management to stop the cash distribution through ATMs and to release the grant only through distribution centres, which can be better managed with the help of the district administration," he revealed.

Ali Habib, the bank's chief corporate communication officer, however, denied that any such proposal was formally submitted to the bank's management or was even under consideration. He told The Express Tribune that the bank had planned to streamline the exercise.

"We will tell the beneficiaries to maintain distance or to go to the nearest ATM or distribution centre to decrease the crowd," he said.

He said that one of the reasons for the rush is that the women who have not been added to list of the beneficiaries were also visiting the centres, which swelled the crowd besides wasting staff's time.

According to him, 600,000 beneficiaries, among 7.5 million, have received the grant during the first two days of its roll-out.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 11th, 2020.


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