On April 14, pictures of barricades to “red zones” in Srinagar floated up on social media, giving rise to a public outcry. These were semi-permanent structures – iron rods drilled into the ground so that they could not be removed.

“There’s absolutely no need to dig roads and fix iron-barricades,” said Shabir Ahmad, who lives in Natipora, one of the sealed localities in Srinagar. “Why can’t they just have spools of concertina wiring to prevent public movement? Who will pay for the damages they have caused to the road? Will they repair these roads with the same zeal?”

The major entry points to Natipora have been sealed, although the locality has several roads leading into it. “Not everyone knows every road in their locality,” protested Ahmad. “Also, what will happen in a medical or fire emergency. How will the people know which roads to take?”

Sealing off red zones

In order to contain the spread of the coronavirus, the Jammu and Kashmir administration has declared “red zones”, areas where chances of infection are high and so movement is highly restricted. There are 90 red zones spread across the Union Territory, 76 of them in the Kashmir Valley. Srinagar alone has 15 localities marked as red zones.

On April 14, the administration issued guidelines to be followed in the red zones to ensure the “delivery of essential supplies, services and to curb the spread of community transmission by enforcing restrictions already imposed under the Disaster Management Act, 2005.”

According to the government statement, the red zones “will see a 100% lockdown and shall be completely sealed for any movement across its boundaries. No outward or inward movement would be allowed.” There would be only “one opening to the red zone to be manned by Naka party and Magistrate.” A “naka party” is a posse of security personnel cordoning off the area. The only movement allowed would be for essential supplies, medical emergencies, fumigation or sanitation, and enforcement or survey personnel.

No movement across the boundaries of red zones would be allowed, said the administration.

However, the authorities insist that half of the points in the red zones in Srinagar have been sealed with “removable barriers”. “In fact those entry-exit points which have been sealed with unremovable barricading also have left-out parts to enable movement of essential services and passage during times of medical or other critical emergencies,” said a statement issued by the Srinagar district administration on April 14.

‘God forbid if there is a patient’

But residents of the sealed zones said they needed to be better informed. “If they have barricaded the entry/exit points, shouldn’t they be informing the locals about which routes to take in case of emergencies and other problems. How are we supposed to know that?,” asked Asma Rafiq, a student.

Rafiq lives in Hawal, a locality in downtown Srinagar, which is home to an intricate mesh of winding lanes. She said the sealing of entry points had led to shortages as reaching essentials was now complicated. “Our milkman comes only twice a week now,” she said. “For vegetables, my father has to walk through a maze of barricades to reach another locality. That’s how we have been getting medicines and vegetables. God forbid, if there’s a patient, he will have to be carried by someone for treatment. A car cannot move out of a red zone because of the sealed borders.”

An official from the Srinagar district administration, who did not want to be named, said the measures were in keeping with the government guidelines. “We have also kept all channels of communication open so the public can reach us,” he said. “If there’s any issue, they can inform us and we’ll sort it out.”