Toilets, drinking water in short supply on first day of siege

Toilets, packaged drinking water, and tea were among the most sought-after things in the Secretariat area on Monday.

Thousands of Left Democratic Front (LDF) workers had converged in the capital to besiege the Secretariat indefinitely till ‘solar scam tainted’ Chief Minister Oommen Chandy quit power.

Many had arrived on early-morning trains and buses and spend the better part of the dawn trawling the city for lavatories. Party workers transported a significant number of them on motorbikes and cars to auditoriums, cinema halls, party offices, and houses of Opposition sympathisers for ablutions.

However, a larger number were left in the lurch with no access to toilets. They crowded into the few hotels and shops, which had opened for the day’s business.

Some hoteliers denied the activists access to cloakroom facilities, leading to heated arguments.

A few protesters broke open the locks of the toilets and invited their comrades to use the facilities, the protests of the owners not withstanding. Packaged drinking water (particularly bottles served chilled), cigarettes, mosquito coils, and sleeping mats were at a premium.

Most shops, convenience stores, and restaurants ran out of stock by noon. Party workers ferried hundreds of cans of packaged water to the agitation venue throughout the day.

However, the supply fell greatly short of the demand.

Wayside eateries and restaurants first ran out of milk, then tea, and finally ended up serving hot water free to the protesters.

The policemen posted for duty were better provisioned. The police had contracted a private caterer to serve breakfast (idlis) and lunch (rice and fish curry) to its personnel. And the policemen felt no shortage for drinking water, which they shared willingly.

Official hierarchy blurred for a day in the Secretariat, with staff coming together to brew tea, make lime juice, and share food. The Indian Coffee House on its premises also ran out of food. A majority of television journalists, who were on a stakeout in the locality from daybreak, were served packaged meals by their offices.

A set of mischief-makers among the protestors trawled the area for two-wheelers sporting security stickers issued to Secretariat staff and policemen and deflated its tyres.

The community kitchens set up by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) worked round the clock to cater to the agitators.

Police driver injured

Thampi, 48, the driver of a police vehicle, was admitted to the Medical College Hospital here after he sustained head injuries in stone-throwing by LDF protesters near Vellayambalam on Monday.