March 10, 2021 8:32:07 pm
Written by Ashwani Chand
When the lockdown was announced in March last year to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, the police were required to implement the directions of the government. While we are mentally trained to deal with any emergency, the pandemic was a different ball game for the police, primarily a law enforcement agency. It had to enforce lockdown restrictions, social distancing norms, the wearing of masks, and provide succour to those in need.
Even before the lockdown was announced, the police leadership was studying how the police in other countries were functioning during the lockdown. They were getting ready with SOPs, rosters, guidelines to sensitise the entire force about protecting themselves from the infection while performing their duties, and other imperatives while on duty during the lockdown.
The police leadership and the network of IPS officers across the country was continuously educating itself on good practices and also working to implement the directions everywhere in India. They were a key element in coordinating the activities of police organisations across the country.
Every day brought with it new challenges. Delhi, being the capital, was the nerve centre of COVID-containment activities, the only place from where flights carrying medical supplies and equipment were taking off for different parts of the country. The police had to ensure that there was no vehicular movement on the roads except for essential services and that all such movement went unhindered. The role of Delhi police and Delhi traffic police during these times were exemplary.
But the police found itself in many difficult and unexpected situations — the migrant crisis, for example. People who were trying to go home during the lockdown were a vulnerable section of our population —daily wage workers, tourists, students — desperate to somehow be with their near and dear ones. Everyone was treated with utmost sensitivity.
Then there were tenants who were left with no money to pay their landlords; families who didn’t have food; elderly people who needed medicines. The police had to ensure that everyone got what they needed. The task was enormous — we had to ensure that landlords did not harass their tenants for rent during this national crisis; that nobody went hungry; that patients got the medical attention they needed; and that those who wanted to return home could do so safely. Innumerable issues like these were handled on a daily basis by the police.
The situation was unprecedented, and the enemy — the coronavirus – was invisible and unpredictable. The police and its leadership realised that they needed to keep the morale of the force high, and briefed their subordinates, regularly discussed solutions for every problem they were facing and guided them on how to protect themselves from infection while working in containment zones. And they were always on the ground with their colleagues to take stock of the situation and provide guidance and encouragement. The police played a vital role in contact tracing at the ground level to arrest the spread of the virus. It was a very challenging job that had to be performed on a 24×7 basis. The entire police force did a commendable job on this front.
Officials and members of the force drew energy from each other. The constant encouragement from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah helped keep morale high. The entire police force from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, from Nagaland to Gujarat rose to the occasion, putting their countrymen before themselves and meeting their myriad needs. Normally, the police force is one of the first responders but during these times it was on the ground as a key responder and, at times, the “only” responder.
The pandemic showed not only the police’s tact and tolerance but also its humane side. Despite grave provocations on several occasions, the police did not use force. Rather, they not only provided what people needed but at times even sang songs to keep their morale up and made musical parodies to sensitise people who were breaking the rule.
The spirit in which they received support from their families, who knew full well that they were at a high risk of catching the infection, is exemplary. Around two lakh police personnel caught COVID on duty. About 1,120 police personnel lost their lives. But that has not deterred the force from doing its duties.
And now that we have vaccines, it gives us the confidence to perform our duties without fear. The pandemic has changed the way the police works. Not only did it change us personally, but it also forced us to devise and develop various innovative ways of working. We have come up with several digital, touch-free alternatives to paperwork, which has helped quicken processes, making our response to any situation more efficient.
A year on, the police prides itself on the services rendered during those times. For each of us, this has meant a completely different level of satisfaction in our duties towards citizens and towards humanity.
[The writer, an IPS officer, is secretary of CIPSA-IPS (Central) Association]
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