The Pilibhit administration on Sunday triggered a controversy when the district police chief and magistrate allegedly took out a march, blowing conch shells and banging steel plates in response to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call to express gratitude to those providing essential services during the COVID-19 outbreak.

While Mr. Modi had asked people to step out on their balconies, verandas or doorways and express their appreciation by clapping or beating plates, the Pilibhit officials were criticised on social media for prima facie breaking isolation and social distancing protocols.

A video of their alleged act was widely shared. In the 20-second video clip, the authenticity of which cannot be independently verified, Pilibhit District Magistrate Vaibhav Srivastava and Superintendent of Police Abhishek Dixit are seen leading a group of people, at least two dozen in sight, many of them government staff and policemen, through an unidentified street.

While the District Magistrate is seen beating a flat metal bell, the police officer is blowing the conch, even as the rest in group are beating plates and clapping as they march ahead in tandem. Many are seen without any masks. Even children can be seen hopping into the frame.

Following condemnation on social media, where many users questioned the administration for possibly jeopardising public health, Pilibhit police clarified that the two officials “did not lead any march” and termed such reports as ‘misleading” and one-sided.

Pilibhit police said that on Sunday while inspecting the Janata Curfew in the city, the SP and the DM came across a locality where a group of people had gathered and were beating utensils and ringing bells.

Seeing this, the officials advised them to go and perform the act individually at home, on their balconies or roofs, and not form groups on the streets.

Those gathered on the street were “removed from the place with emotional engagement,” Pilibhit police explained in a statement, adding that use of force to disperse them did not seem “practical” at that moment.

Police post clip

The police also posted a video clip of the DM in which he is seen telling people, through a media byte, to not come out on the streets and to hold the appreciation drills on their roofs, as assembly of people risks spread of the viral disease.

“I appeal to people to do it from home and not to gather at one place,” Mr. Srivastava said.

The Uttar Pradesh government on Sunday announced a “complete lockdown” in 15 districts of the State till at least March 25 in a bid to contain the COVID-19 outbreak. Later in the evening, the government added Pilibhit, which is vulnerable due to its proximity to Nepal, to the list.

The other 15 districts to be placed under lockdown include Lucknow and Agra, which have reported eight positive cases each so far. Gautam Buddha Nagar, Ghaziabad, Lakhimpur Kheri, Moradabad, Varanasi, Azamgarh, Kanpur, Meerut, Prayagraj, Aligarh, Saharanpur, Bareilly and Gorakhpur are the other districts where life will come to a standstill.

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