As they continue doing a range of Covid-related duties, from checkpoint deployment to facilitating migrants’ transit, there is a growing sentiment among the constabulary of the Maharashtra police that their burden needs to be lightened and shared by other less-occupied government departments.
The burden of various Covid-related duties is considerably high on police in the affected regions including Mumbai, Pune, Thane, Nashik, Aurangabad, Raigad and Solapur. In other districts too, large chunk of police force has also been given Covid-related duties.
A police constable involved in facilitating migrant workers’ transit from Pune railway station said, “We are used to our 12-hour duties getting stretched to 15 hours. We all will continue doing these high risk duties, but we sincerely feel that some work should be assigned to staff from those state government departments who do not have any specific Covid duty as of now. Deployment of police for maintaining order at railway stations is needed but why police have to collect the data of migrant workers, process it, facilitate their transport and making sure their safe passage etc?”
A woman constable said, “Many of us lose our cool, behave rashly during these duties. But consider the high risk, high pressure nature of duty and risk of catching and carrying the infection home. The safety utilities like masks, sanitisers and face shields have been provided but the number of Covid positive police personnel keeps rising. We see only health, revenue, civic and police staff on the ground. What about others? Also, is there coordination between all departments?”
Since the beginning of the outbreak and subsequent announcement of lockdown, the police in Maharashtra have been deployed for contact tracing of Covid positive persons, monitoring of home or institutional quarantine and above all the enforcement of the lockdown including curfews in some places, closure of containment zones, district boundaries and issuing travel permits. Since the central government allowed homeward transit of stranded migrant workers and others, the added responsibility of facilitating these homeward journeys was also given to local police units. The burden was in addition to routine policing duties – which, however, has lightened to some extent due to the lockdown.
On May 28, the number of Covid-19 positive cops in Maharashtra’s two-lakh-strong police force crossed the 2,000 mark. On Sunday, the number was around 2,400 with around 1,420 active cases.
Another woman constable from a police station which has several hotspots in its jurisdiction said, “Since the beginning our teams have done duties right from checking the regular cleaning and disinfecting of toilets to making sure that people do not refuse testing. We will continue to do it. But shouldn’t the responsibility be shared by others. The rising number of infections among police scare me.”
An assistant inspector rank police officer said, “We are doing a lot of things that police are not chartered to do but we have been asked to. While we are not trained for any of it, we are learning on the job. Shouldn’t personnel from other less occupied departments of the state governments be brought in. This added responsibility also comes with the possibility of being blamed for rise in cases if there are any. Police are easy to blame when there is collective failure including that of the citizens.”
As a precautionary measure, around 23,000 police personnel aged between 50 and 55 are being given low-risk police station tasks while 12,000 more who are above 55 have been asked to stay home. Duties at checkpoints now have shorter durations. Additional force of Central Armed Police Force and Home Guard is being brought to lighten the burden. While April saw significant reduction in crime rate bringing respite to cops, May which brought easing of restrictions has seen rise in crimes. “We just feel these undercurrents among the cops will have to be understood and acted upon by the decision makers. Difficult times are ahead and it should not be forgotten that cops are human beings,” said a police inspector.
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