Keep aside politics, fight Covid-19 together: Kejriwal at all-party meeting

Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on Thursday urged leaders across political lines to keep aside politics in the fight against Covid-19 and said the Delhi government is prohibiting Chhath Puja celebrations in public places this year considering the health risk it could entail in the light of the pandemic.

Kejriwal, on Thursday, convened a meeting in the Delhi Secretariat with representatives of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress on the Covid-19 situation in the Capital.

The discussions ranged from the shortage of ICU beds, air pollution adding to infections, Chhath celebrations and the government’s recent decisions to restrict the size of marriage-related gatherings to 50 individuals and seeking permission from the Centre to temporarily shut down markets that are likely to become Covid-19 hot spots.

The BJP and the Congress urged the government to reconsider its decision to impose a cap on wedding attendees and give up on the proposal to impose restrictions in markets. The meeting, however, led to no specific decisions on any of the matters that were discussed, said senior leaders who attended it.

In a video press briefing after the meeting, Kejriwal said, “All political parties have agreed to collectively serve the people of Delhi by leaving politics aside in this time of Covid-19 calamity.”

After the meeting, all three parties said they will start an initiative from Friday in which volunteers will be deployed in crowded areas to ensure social distancing, participate in awareness campaigns and distribute free masks.

Kejriwal said, “There have been arguments regarding Chhath Puja in the past few days. We want people to celebrate Chhath Puja in Delhi but this year there is a pandemic and there is an immense amount of health risk. Imagine, how much transmission can happen in the Chhath ghats where people take dips in common water bodies. Water can make the transmission worse. People will surely get infected. The prohibition this year is only in public places. Let’s celebrate Chhath Puja in our residences this year. Gujarat, Maharashtra and Haryana too have imposed such restrictions.”

There was a lack of consensus, with the BJP and Congress representatives insisting the Delhi government should have allowed Chhath Puja at Yamuna ghats with certain safety measures and restrictions in place.

Soon after the meeting, Kejriwal announced that the penalty for not wearing masks in public places would be increased from Rs 500 to Rs 2,000.

Leader of Opposition in the Delhi Assembly, Ramvir Singh Bidhuri said, “We told the CM and representatives of the AAP that shutting down markets would do no good. People will lose jobs and the crowd will only move to other markets and eventually, more of them will have to be shut one after another. The government should rather scale up screening and enforcement in the markets, ensure social distancing and distribute masks. We shall be engaging our volunteers from Friday. The government should also withdraw the restrictions related to weddings. People have already planned events and distributed invitations.”

Bidhuri, who is a BJP MLA, said, “We have questioned the AAP government on why they failed to increase ICU beds when expert panels had long ago predicted the surge in cases after the festive season. We asked about measures taken to fight air pollution, which is making the Covid-19 crisis worse.”

Delhi Congress chief Chaudhary Anil Kumar said, “We have stressed that the government should have scaled up tests and containment efforts long ago. We demanded that the decisions on a cap on marriage gatherings and temporarily shutting down markets be rolled back. We pointed out that the government should have allowed Chhath Puja in public places with certain safety protocols in place instead of imposing a prohibition.”

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