On Monday morning, ward boys posted at the Nagpada Police Hospital made a special round. They kept looking inside laundry baskets, beneath steel cupboards, in corners and at places where the stairs bend. Similar rounds, are made by the police surgeon, every alternate day.
They all are looking for empty liquor bottles. At 12.30 pm seven empty liquor bottles were retrieved — one whiskey bottle from a laundry bin, three whiskey bottles each from underneath two cupboards.
For a long time now, the hospital administration is desperately trying to curb a difficult addiction, alcoholism among the admitted police personnel in the 114-bed hospital. For a force reeling under stress, and the weekend shoot out inside a police station by one of their own, the findings of this daily informal raid, say experts are just indicators of the “tipping point”.
On Saturday, an officer posted at Sakinaka admitted for a hand injury, was given an early discharge after he was found consuming alcohol on his cot. The officer, requesting anonymity, admitted he also suffers from liver ailment due to alcohol addiction.
A nurse posted in the men’s general ward told The Indian Express, “There is a wine shop nearby. The policemen walk there on their own to buy liquor. They then have it either in the toilets or on their beds.”
While the hospital holds no official records, a rough estimate says that every month three to four alcoholic police officers admitted in the hospital are found indulging in such activities. According to Dr Kaminidevi Bhoir, honorary psychiatrist at the hospital, addiction can lead to alcohol-induced psychosis amongst police officers. While Dilip Shirke who shot his senior Vilas Joshi was not an alcoholic, Bhoir said, “Stress can often force officers to consume alcohol. Several are addicted since 15-20 years and now need it to compensate the long working hours. In extreme cases, it can lead to stress-induced or alcohol-induced psychosis.” About three years ago, Police Surgeon Dr S M Patil installed grilled gates at different exit points in the hospital building to prevent admitted officers from stepping out of the premises to buy alcohol.
“The gates are locked from 6 pm to 6 am. But sometimes a gate is left open and they find a way to go out,” a peon working in the hospital admitted.
The hospital currently has no security guards, all posts are lying vacant. “There is a manpower shortage,” admitted Patil, however, adding that this problem has been reduced by strict vigilance on the patients. “We complain at the respective police station that their officer is drinking while undergoing treatment,” he said, adding that he even conducts surprise checks at night.
Efforts are, however, on to counsel officers. Alcoholics Anonymous, an organisation that helps in de-addiction and has over 5,000 patients attached in Mumbai, also works with the hospital to counsel addicted officers. Co-ordinator Ashok Garge said, “Every Thursday, for de-addiction we make the officers discuss their issues, then motivate them to quit, but relapse is common in the police force,” he said.
The hospital will now install CCTV cameras at the two gates following the home department’s approval. “With CCTV, we can at least monitor which patient is stepping out,” Patil said. When contacted, Dhananjay Kulkarni, Mumbai Police spokesperson, said, “I am not aware of this situation. We will immediately take corrective steps to stop this.”