Prakasam district collector Pola Bhaskar gave an open challenge and wished that “like in a movie where a common man was made as a one-day CM… given a chance if I have that power, I would like to give an opportunity to someone to be a one-day collector who thinks they can handle the present COVID situation better than me.”
He said this in a meeting held with the merchants from Ongole city who are against re-imposition of the lockdown.
Sources said that he made this comment indirectly to the ruling YSR Congress Party’s MLAs who are trying to pressurise him by taking the public’s side without understanding the current situation.
To control the rise in COVID-19 cases, the collector has re-imposed lockdown in Ongole and Chirala towns again, since the district administration felt that there was no way except to go back to lockdown to contain the virus spread.
Prakasam district has seen a huge spike in COVID cases. A district which had 67 positive cases three months ago was down to zero cases in mid May. But when the lockdown was relaxed, there was a sudden rise in numbers to 1300 cases in the district.
This happened, according to authorities, due to those who have returned from other states, who continued to move around even after giving samples. They became super spreaders by the time their test results were out.
As per government instructions about red zone and buffer zone, the district administration has announced Chirala and Ongole as red zones and implemented the lockdown according to the regulations of Government Order number 50.
The Collector ordered officials to implement instructions strictly and informed the people that shops, including the essentials such as medical shops and milk booths will also shut down on Sundays.
There was immediate opposition by shop owners, saying they are ready to bear any consequences to stay functional but that they were not ready for another lockdown since they had already suffered losses.
They then met Balineni Srinivasa Reddy, Minister for energy, forests, environment, science, and technology in government of AP and requested him to look into the matter. The minister promised to relax the lockdown.
Talking to The Lede Thatavarti Vasu, president of the Ongole Chamber of Commerce said, “In the meeting we were told that there is a huge increase in COVID cases and the Collector tried to explain to us that public and politicians don’t understand the legal problems of bureaucrats and sought the cooperation of the people. He further said that he has no right to work against the government rules and assured to relax the lockdown once the cases reduce.”
The Collector has now issued guidelines for a fresh round of lockdown where he gave permission for all grocery shops, milk parlours, vegetable and fruits shops, fish and mutton stalls to function between 6 am to 10 am during the lockdown and ordered non-essential shops to remain shut.
“We are requesting the Collector to allow us to open shops partially by assuring to maintain social distance. Because after lockdown relaxation, our businesses have not picked up by even 10%. Fresh lockdowns will not guarantee that cases will reduce, but they will cause irreparable damage to businesses,” added Vasu.
He further claimed – “There are many districts in Andhra which are more affected by COVID than us. For example, places like Kurnool didn’t impose any lockdown and the shop owners are running their business. It is only Prakasam district which imposed the lockdown and are forcing us to close the shops.
We have questioned the Collector based on this matter that if other districts can run their business then why can’t we do the same? We are asking for only partial relaxation as the havoc of the lockdown has destroyed our business. We are all on the verge of committing suicide due to our huge financial losses. Many of us run businesses on rented premises and stay in a rented room.
After listening to our requests, the Collector said he sympathises with the traders and tried to make us understand that nothing is more important than safeguarding one’s life. He further said they are not happy about imposing a lockdown since it requires a lot of effort. Since they have no other alternative, they have chosen to impose lockdown and said people will only understand our problem if they handle our roles for at least one day,” said Vasu.
Pola Bhaskar joined as a conferred IAS officer for Prakasam district in June 2019. Sources say since he took charge as Collector, there have been clashes between him and the YSRCP MLAs Balineni Srinivasa Reddy, Manugunta Mahidhar Reddy (Kandukur MLA), TJR Sudhakar Babu (Santhanuthalapadu MLA).
There is a belief that Bhaskar is not to sort to humour MLAs.
In fact, MLA Sudhakar Babu protested in front of the collectorate office a few times.
It is privately believed that his message of being a ‘one-day Collector’ was for the MLAs and not the traders.
Neither Collector Bhaskar nor the MLAs named in this report could be reached for a response.