A century-old South African residential care facility for the aged which is strongly supported by screen legend Amitabh Bachchan is at the centre of a controversy over alleged contravention of regulations during the current nationwide lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Aryan Benevolent Home (ABH) chief executive Naren Pattundeen and building contractor Roshan Lutchman, who were busy preparing a COVID-19 isolation ward at the Chatsworth home for the elderly, were arrested by police for not having in order the required permits.
The ABH was constructing a 24-bed ward as part of the facility”s disaster management plan to prepare for a possible outbreak at the home, which caters for scores of senior citizens, when police arrived at the site.
Lutchman told the website Independent Online (IOL) that he and Pattundeen were in possession of valid permits to operate during the lockdown, which the police refused to accept as valid.
Then they said they were locking everyone up. I had 38 workers on site and we asked how they planned to take us. We said the ABH had buses which could be used to transport us to the station, Lutchman said.
However, they packed us in batches of 12 into a police van and escorted us to Chatsworth police station, Lutchman said.
He said social distancing was not possible at the police station and everyone was packed into a courtyard until police allowed his workers to leave with a warning.
Lutchman and Pattundeen were held in a cell and only released later that evening after their attorney secured bail of Rand 500 each for them.
We have engaged our attorneys to challenge our unlawful arrest. It was disrespectful and demoralising – the way they handled us was as if we were selling drugs or alcohol,” he said.
Their conduct was really shocking. The ABH staff watched a senior member being arrested like a crook, while my staff watched me being arrested, he added.
Lutchman said he would also lodge a complaint with the Independent Police Investigative Directorate, which is already investigating several cases of alleged abuse by the police, including one killing, as the police and army patrol streets to ensure that people stay indoors as per the national lockdown regulations.
Pattundeen told IOL that all of his documents were in order to provide essential services and it had not been unlawful for him to employ the contractor. Bachchan has been very supportive of the ABH for many years after he first went there during his visit in 2002 for the South African leg of the megastar Bollywood show Now or Never”.
In October last year, Bachchan joined President Cyril Ramaphosa in endorsing a fundraising campaign for the ABH, which was started more than a century ago to care for indigent Indian-origin senior citizens who were neglected by the community.