New Delhi: The police force, which constitutes an important section of the frontline workers tackling the Covid-19 pandemic, has been left to fend for itself in many states, including Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.
So far, four policemen have lost their lives to Covid-19 (one in Ludhiana two in Ujjain and another in Indore), more than 100 others have caught the infection (49 in Maharashtra, 22 in Delhi, 24 in Gujarat, 59 in Madhya Pradesh, two in Uttar Pradesh), while others show symptoms (over 100 in UP).
In many cases, personnel say they often go on duty without adequate protective gear even though they share an equal risk of contracting the virus as any other healthcare worker.
Healthcare workers and policemen
The central government had announced a Rs 50-lakh insurance cover for healthcare and municipal workers who may contract the coronavirus while on duty. However, no such scheme has been announced for the police working 24×7 ensuring the lockdown.
This has prompted retired Indian Police Service officers to write to the Centre, asking for an insurance scheme that specifically caters to the police.
ThePrint accessed one such representation which said this measure will be a big “moral boost for the khaki wearing govt servants who are ably complementing the tireless efforts of Central and State Govts in controlling this disaster”.
“The policemen on ground are on law and order duty but they are deployed in containment zones and hotspots, bus stops, and are taking suspected Covid-19 positive cases to the hospital for testing. They are the ones involved with public dealing and are exposing themselves to the virus as much as any healthcare worker,” said a retired IPS officer, who did not wish to be named.
“Both the state and central governments should make sure that they are not only given proper gear, but also sufficient benefits,” he added.
The Ministry of Home Affairs, however, said since law and order is a state subject, (except in Delhi), it is up to the states concerned to make sufficient arrangements, including insurance schemes for personnel.
“Police is a state subject and they already have insurance schemes. There is nothing from the Centre as it does not fall under us,” an MHA official said.
Issue of protective gear surfaces again
While police departments across states have been arranging masks, sanitisers and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kits at their own level, neither the Centre nor the state governments have come up with any plan to ensure this equipment reaches the personnel on duty.
In Indore, which has emerged as a major hotspot with 915 infected, including 38 policemen, many personnel are still on duty without gloves and masks.
In Bhopal too, where the police department has become the second biggest hotspot in the city with 34 policemen testing positive, many can be seen on duty using handkerchiefs as masks.
In Gujarat and Maharashtra, where 73 personnel in all are infected with the virus, the numbers are growing but policemen are still managing with bare minimum protective gear.
“We were given masks at the police station but not gloves. Also, we have made sanitisers at home and have filled our bottles that we have kept at pickets. Though we have been asked to maintain social distancing, we meet so many people in a day, sometimes it requires nabbing them (and) detaining them, it becomes difficult,” a head constable in Bhopal told ThePrint.
Constable Rizwana with the Uttar Pradesh Police has a nine-month-old daughter and is forced to take her to the picket she is posted at. Neither Rizwana nor her daughter has a mask.
Rizwana wraps a cloth around her face while a handkerchief is fashioned into a mask for the daughter.
Rizwana’s husband is in the force too, and the couple is on the same shift. Their family is stuck in Varanasi, so there isn’t anyone to take care of the infant now.
“This is my job. I can’t run away at this time. So, I am taking out ways to manage it all together,” she told ThePrint over the phone.
Though Uttar Pradesh has reported one Covid-19 positive case from Bijnor, 100 others have been quarantined in Meerut and Muzaffarpur after they came in contact with alleged criminals, who were positive.
Though the state gave policemen masks, none of the personnel were provided gloves or PPE kits to use while transporting infected patients to hospitals.
Those on ground say that many of them have symptoms, but they are not being tested.
“They are not testing policemen. One of our colleagues who had symptoms went for the test, but was asked to return,” a head constable with the UP Police said.
“Though we have been given masks, they are not sufficient for all. Gloves were given to only a few. All this we are arranging either from our own pocket or our seniors sometimes are generous enough to provide us with gear,” he added.
National capital perks
The situation in Delhi, however, is better. Many deputy commissioners and joint commissioners of police have collaborated with people willing to help to ensure a supply of protective gear for their personnel.
“Though there is no central scheme for this, we have been managing well. All personnel on ground have masks and sanitisers, which are being arranged through various sources —sometimes Good Samaritans and CSR (corporate social responsibility) policy,” a senior police officer said.
“We have told them to maintain adequate social distance. To build their immunity, police stations are giving their personnel Vitamin C tablets and lemon water regularly,” he added.
The Delhi Police has also managed to arrange PPE kits for personnel deployed in hotspots and containment zones.
“Our officers arranged some PPE kits and those have been given to personnel deployed in high risk areas like Nizamuddin where we saw a sudden surge in cases,” another senior police officer said.
However, the risk to policemen isn’t just to those on duty but also to their families, which include young children and aged parents.
Many state police departments have arranged for personnel to stay in police training institutes and stations to limit the exposure, but the ground reality is that not all personnel on duty can be accommodated in these facilities, said many policemen ThePrint spoke to.
Need for Covid-19 insurance
The central government hasn’t devised an insurance scheme for policemen working on the ground, but states have two kinds of schemes that cover personnel.
One is for personnel “killed in action” and the other for personnel “killed on duty” — the amount for the latter is higher in value.
According to a senior police officer, personnel are considered ‘killed on duty’ when they die during duty hours, which could be an accident or even natural death.
Personnel are considered to have been killed in action when they die in either an encounter or raid fighting terrorists and criminals and, in case of paramilitary, fighting terrorists and Naxals. “This insurance can be claimed if a personnel dies of gunshot wounds, in a blast, while in action,” a police officer said.
Insurance is awarded under a third category, “in case of a disaster” in which personnel die in situations like a natural calamity. This insurance of the higher amount can be claimed for this.
Most states are working on extending the insurance cover of the higher value to any Covid-19 casualty.
In UP, CM Yogi Adityanath has announced Rs 50 lakh for any personnel who dies due to Covid-19.
The Delhi Police too has a cover of Rs 30 lakh for personnel killed in action, and Rs 5 lakh if killed on duty. The department has also decided to award the insurance of Rs 30 lakh to any policeman who dies due to Covid-19, while on duty, ThePrint has learnt.
Another retired IPS officer, who did not wish to be named, however, said this insurance cover is not sufficient, and a central scheme should be in place.
“The police should receive a cover from the state as well as the Centre, just like the healthcare workers. They are putting their lives at risk on a daily basis, and that should be acknowledged by the government,” he said.