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Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Marshals brave infection risk to enforce Covid norms on Bengaluru streets

Working outdoors in the face of a pandemic for more than 13 hours a day, the marshals have been going about enforcing the Covid protocols, topping which is to ensure that the locals are wearing masks and maintaining social distancing.

Written by Darshan Devaiah BP | Bengaluru | Updated: December 4, 2020 9:59:45 am
The marshals have been carrying a brief over the last eight months to patrol busy streets, market areas and other public spaces to put a leash on the virus. Express Photo: Darshan Devaiah BP

Marshals deployed by Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), the agency taking care of the city’s civic amenities, are putting their best foot forward in controlling the spread of Covid-19.

Working outdoors in the face of a pandemic for more than 13 hours a day, the marshals have been going about enforcing the Covid protocols, topping which is to ensure that the locals are wearing masks and maintaining social distancing.

The marshals have been carrying a brief over the last eight months to patrol busy streets, market areas and other public spaces to put a leash on the virus.

Though the city has reported fewer Covid cases over the last few days, the marshals aren’t letting their guard down as they get on the roads by 8am every day, keeping a close watch on commuters and ensuring that they are adhering to the norms at all times. The BBMP put them to work from the time the city started reporting Covid cases.

Before the pandemic set in, the marshals were tasked with managing the city’s solid waste.

Umesh, a 28-year-old marshal deployed in the Dasarahalli zone, said though the numbers are decreasing, there is fear of a second wave. “Hence, we are enforcing the rules strictly and raising awareness about the virus among commuters. We start at 8am when people usually step out for work. Whenever we catch anyone not wearing a mask, we make him pay a fine of Rs 250. Not maintaining social distancing invites a similar penalty,” he said.

Before the pandemic set in, the marshals were tasked with managing the city’s solid waste. Express Photo: Darshan Devaiah BP

Braving the risk of infection, more than 231 marshals are enforcing Covid norms across the city. Recently, the BBMP sanctioned eight patrolling vehicles for each zone. Marshals patrolling in vehicles have also been asked to help those on the ground in the event of a public backlash while levying fines for violations.

Krishna, an ex-serviceman who enlisted his services as a marshal in May, said, “I am happy that the awareness that we are raising is making the public abide by the rules. However, we often face public ire while penalising them for violations. Some people, who are caught for not wearing masks, misbehave with us and even pick up fights. In most such cases, we have to let them go without paying fines.”

After enforcing Covid rules from morning till afternoon hours, marshals are asked to check for illegal waste dumping across the city at night.

Speaking to indianexpress.com, Col Rajbir Singh, chief marshal officer, BBMP, said each marshal has been given a target of finding 10 Covid norm violations each. “Most of the marshals are ex-servicemen or people who have been trained in the National Cadet Corps (NCC). They are trained to check for Covid norm violations and each of them carry a Point of Sale (POS) device to collect fines from public in the event of a penalty and issue receipts. The money collected through fines is deposited to BBMP account,” Singh said.

“We started the marshal service on June 6 and till November 30, our collections through fines was around Rs 4.37 lakh. The penalties were imposed mostly for not wearing masks or following social distancing,” Singh added.

On Wednesday, a technical committee advising the Karnataka government on tackling the pandemic warned that a second wave may hit Karnataka in January. It suggested measures such as imposition of night curfew between December 26 and January 1 and ban on New Year celebrations to ward off a fresh upward spiral in Covid cases.

“Even though cases are on the decline, the marshals will continue to enforce regulations. Our goal is to create awareness and make sure people wear masks and help us keep the virus from spreading,” Singh said.

Despite doing their job with full honesty and sincerity, the marshals are grappling with a delay in payment of the salaries. The state government ran up a two-month delay in clearing their wages. Working through September and October without pay put their families under a great deal of stress. Their wages were finally released after multiple requests.

The marshals draw a monthly salary of Rs 17,000 each, with an additional Rs 1,500 deducted under other heads. “A few of us were not paid for three months, while some others went without pay for two months. We had to go through a lot of hardship, especially when it came to running our households. The government finally released our wages after three months. Such delays in clearing our wages are only raising the risks that come with the job,” Prakash, a marshal in the Dasarahalli zone, said.

Prasad, who also earns his bread enforcing Covid rules, said work pressure, coupled with wage delays, could force him to quit the job. “We’re collecting plenty of fines for the government at a time like this and it should pay us on time. The BBMP could also pay us from the money we collect as fines,” he said.

Karnataka, over the past week, recorded more than 65,000 violations of Covid norms. Data from the State War Room for Covid-19 shows that the state recorded 65,649 cases of people violating social distancing and mask rules across seven days, ending Saturday (November 28).

Apart from marshals, police have also been tasked with enforcing Covid regulations in Bengaluru. In districts, the job has been vested in the men in uniform.

At 14,624, Bengaluru Urban reported maximum violations, followed by Chikkaballapura at 9,303 and Kalaburagi at 4,815. Bengaluru Urban also reported 5,625 positive cases over the last seven days, while Chikkaballapura and Kalaburagi recorded 167 and 208 infections, respectively.

Districts saw fewer violations, with Uttara Kannada, Vijayapura and Bidar recording 291, 133 and 85 such instances respectively.

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