Tasked with leading the force in a crisis that has no training manual nor precedence,Madhya Pradesh DGP Vivek Johritells TOI in an exclusive interview that morale is high among police personnel though they are on duty 24×7. Having been appointed when the state was grappling with a political crisis and the first signs of the Coronavirus pandemic, Johri is bringing into play all his experience in stints with RAW and field operations on the border as head of BSF. The force is hoping for the best and prepared to handle the worst, he says. Excerpts
What is your strategy to handle the flood of homecoming migrant labourers? This is ballooning into a massive problem.
DGP: Undoubtedly, homecoming migrant labourers in large numbers are a challenge to the administration. We have issued clear instructions that all such people have to be medically examined and suspect cases will be quarantined. Others will be provided food and shelter by the local administration at the place wherever they are stationed for the next 14 days of monitoring. All necessary facilities would be arranged by the administration, as per instructions given by MHA.
Why are there instances of police high-handedness? Is there a communication/information gap or is it just some loose cannons?
DGP: Policemen are working under unforeseen stress. They are worried about the pandemic as well as the continuous working hours. They are worried about their families and their near and dear ones, too. Under such strenuous situation, isolated instances have come to light. Communication / information regarding sensitivity is very clear and is being reiterated continuously. Apart from regular orders, my own video address to the force has been very clear that misbehaviour by police is unacceptable.
How to implement lockdown without using force? We know police are out there distributing food and supplies. How can the department sensitise police not to use lathis?
DGP: In such sensitive situations, use of undue force is a complete NO-NO. The public is also passing through a very critical stage and the least we can do is to be sensitive and allay any kind of fears they may be having. However, whenever such incidents happen due to stressful situations, they are dealt with sternly.
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Persuasion is not always effective and taking people to police station for FIRs and other legal action puts police in risk of infection. What is your opinion on this?
DGP: Unfortunately, the situation is so critical that we cannot take any chances. All our men are trying to motivate and persuade people to follow the guidelines. However, in case of violations, legal action has to be taken since the irresponsible actions of a few citizens could endanger the lives of others. We have given clear instructions that people taken in custody should be properly sanitised, medically examined and only then be taken to the police station.
A lot of police action would depend on how other units of the administration function. How to shield police from the stress induced due to factors not in their control?
DGP: In case any units of administration does not come up to the mark, which leads to unnecessary stress to police, we have a mechanism in place to convey it to the departments concerned. Senior officers in the field are quick to respond in coordinating with the administration. The police headquarters is working on all issues round the clock.
How to keep police motivated? They are in for the long haul.
DGP: The biggest motivator for police or any uniformed force is for the leaders to lead from the front. All our senior officers in the field formation are working 24 hours, along with our men. We are also ensuring that their basic needs like food, shelter, sanitising of uniforms and preventive medicine are being taken care of. In addition, senior officers are in touch with their family members for any concerns which may arise.
Is there concern among families of police personnel? They are out risking their lives.
DGP: There is indeed concern among families of police personnel since we are working in a dangerous situation, being exposed to the contagion. However, we are ensuring that our men remain safe and we have provided safety kits, sanitisation facilities, preventive medicine and proper food to them. Still, families are also concerned about getting infected so we are keeping the residential lines clean and sanitised as well as addressing their concerns through senior officers.
TOI: What are the contingencies plans?
DGP: We are facing an unprecedented situation where we have no previous experiences to fall back on. However, we are aware that in a worst-case scenario, the situation could worsen in the coming days. We are prepared for it and have ensured proper rotation of force so that they get sufficient rest and are able to perform for a long time. Other than that we have kept a reserve force at all the stations which are being properly looked after so that they can be used at a short notice. We have also planned to engage the services of other departments like excise, forest etc., and private security agencies also.