Daijiworld Media Network - Mangaluru (ANK)
Mangaluru, Apr 19: The lockdown situation in Dakshina Kannada, and all over the state and the nation, has produced quite a bit of confusion among the public ever since it was first imposed a month ago. Almost every day the governments and the district administrations have been revising guidelines after closely monitoring and reviewing the situation. In the first few days especially, it was quite hard for the public to adjust themselves to the new way of life under lockdown, but now, people are slowly coming to terms with the reality. The local administration has done its best to make sure that no one suffers during the lockdown, and to the credit of the district and city police, very few incidents of disorder have been reported even though there have been quite a few violations on the part of the public. With the number of coronavirus cases increasing every day across the state and the nation, the lockdown may well be extended beyond May 3, if reports are to be believed.
Amid this confusing and frustrating situation, Daijiworld met with city police commissioner Dr P S Harsha to understand various aspects of the lockdown and get a clear picture of the dos and don'ts that the public need to follow. Dr Harsha spoke to Daijiworld founder and editor-in-chief Walter Nandalike on Public Challenge programme on Daijiworld TV.
Q: From day 1 of lockdown, police have been receiving appreciation for handling the lockdown situation. How did you manage this?
A: From day one it was not a regular bandobast. The entire police team was addressed as this was not a law and order curfew, but something that needed to be handled very patiently. All are concerned, but there was no clarity. This is the very time people of two-three generations have seen something like this. We worked with the frontline workers, including the medical teams. The sensibility was clearly communicated and due to public cooperation we could build a clear kind of system. The people have realized that the enforcement is for their own good. Things have sorted out now to a largely extent, but we still need full cooperation of the public and a whole lot of patience.
Q: Initially there was lack of clarity. Decisions and guidelines were changing every now and then. You have tried to reach out to people via social media. What is the reason behind this lack of clarity?
A: It was a learning curve. Based on global best practices, there were core corrections happening everywhere. First, there was no clarity on wearing masks, no clarity on whether the lockdown was scientific and how it would be. There was no clarity on containment as we were all riding on a learning curve. It took some time to get coordination and the machinery in place. After that the entire district administration came together, with the cooperation of people's representatives, media and the public, with a unity of purpose. The rough edges have been smoothened and things are falling in place to a great extent.
Q: We can see police resorting to lathi charge in other districts in videos that have become viral on social media, but in Mangaluru there was no such incident. Did you give any special instruction to your department in this regard?
A: Being a medical doctor myself, it helped. From day one we understood that this disease should be tackled purely medically. This was not a law and order bandobast and there was no work for lathi here, and the maximum weapon we could use was mike. Secondly, it was a matter of building consensus, so we started gathering opinions from all sections of society from across the city. The 'My beat my pride' initiation came handy in this situation and we were able to reach the ground in no time.
Due to soft peddaling, people sometimes took advantage and took this lightly for one or two days, but that was okay, than putting innocent people to hardship. We went on to take legal measures by seizure of vehicles. Till date we have seized 2,600 vehicles. It is good to go by legal route. By seizing vehicles, their mobility is cut off, and it enables them to question themselves as to why the police had to take such action. A majority of them come back to us and apologise. Once they have understood the consequence of their action, we let them go without filing a case. It is all a matter of building consensus and enforcement in a cordial atmosphere. It is totally different from enforcement of law and order, as there, an entire city is at risk of being butchered if the law and order is not enforced properly. Here we are taking care of every individual from a medical point of view.
Q: Recently a video has gone viral of a senior citizen with Alzheimers who was stopped by the police. Have you brought to the attention of the police the role they must play in such situations?
A: I have seen the entire video. The police were patient and were repeatedly asking the elderly man about the pass. Maybe he had medical reasons to behave in such a manner. Police have displayed utmost restraint, police have not physically tackled, and he was not arrested, nor taken into custody. At the same time he should not cross lines by abusing and using two vulgar language in public. There can be no excuse to anyone. I appeal to the family members to take utmost care especially in this difficult situation. If he has Alzheimer's or dementia, how can he be allowed drive a four-wheeler alone? This is a matter that his family members, well-wishers and friends should take note of, and help him. You are risking an entire society by allowing him to drive, and he may not even realise where he is going. It is my urgent appeal to people to help our senior citizens, especially in these troubled times.
Q: Has crime rate reduced during the lockdown? Do you have any statistics regarding this?
A: Yes definitely, there has been an 80 percent drop in the crime rate. This is because of common enforcement that has affected everyone. No one is descending on roads, as they expect to be intercepted by the police. So I would assume that they are staying in their homes. And since everyone is at home, there is no opportunity for thieves to break into houses either. The lesson from this should be increased sense of awareness about one's own household and neighbourhood.
Q: Are you satisfied with the cooperation of the people so far?
A: We have a population of about 10 lac, and out of that the violators are only about some hundreds, so in that sense the cooperation has been extraordinary. If we go by numbers, we are extremely satisfied, but are we happy with the violations? No, we are not. Even these hundred violators are risking and sabotaging the very productive efforts of the rest of them. My appeal to everyone is, please understand, your health comes first. You will be risking everyone's life if you violate the lockdown. Any spike in a country of this size will be very damaging to its economy and its growth prospects. All of us have to been put to inconvenience. This is the minimum we can do for our country. This is not an ordinary struggle, this is a pandemic that has affected the entire world. Even superpowers have become helpless. The lockdown has been done on a scientific basis to break the chain as there is no vaccine or protocols. We have to break the chain by preventing its spread. It is the responsibility of every individual on earth.
Q: Can we expect some relaxation after April 20 if there are no fresh positive cases reported until then?
A: The central government has already issued guidelines, which are now in public domain. Primarily some agricultural activities and specific industries will be opened. All this is subjective to the status on April 19. Lockdown is not completely lifted but it is bound to stay till May 3. The relaxation as such may affect only a small fraction of the population who are engaged in economic activities. If you ask whether you can go for a movie or shopping in a mall, the answer is still a big no. Only those involved in production activities listed as essentials will be given relaxation.
Q: Kasargod border is completely sealed down except for emergencies. What about Mangaluru-Udupi border? What is the procedure to travel in case of emergencies?
A: For both Kasargod and Udupi borders, the protocol is exactly the same for allowing emergencies and essential services. The driver and the staff will be screened before entering the district. As per the protocol enabling patient to come here, they should be certified by the DHO, and certified as non-coronavirus patients. Going to Udupi from Mangaluru will be allowed only in case of unfortunate death, and if preliminary document of death is produced either before the DC, DCP or police commisisoner, who will look into whether the reason is genuine and issue an inter-district pass. Other reason is grave medical emergencies wherein district A does not have facility which exists in district B. In such cases and medical emergencies, passes will be issued.
Q: While crime rate has drastically come down, there has been a rise in number of online fraud. Has this come to your notice?
A: Data consumption is at its highest as the entire population is dependent on internet. Online commerce also is at its highest. Definitely mischiefs are happening. The first area of mischief we have tackled and prioritized is misinformation regarding coronavirus, going again by the government guidelines. Spreading wrong information wth regard to coronavirus treatment is sabotaging the efforts of the elected government, which is dangerous.
Q: You have been active on social media and in this specific time it has helped you to communicate with the public. How else has it helped you?
A: Office visitors are few, we dont want to create crowd anywhere. We visit places only if there is any particular reason, and we cannot conduct public outreach programmes. 'My beat my pride' has been formed with a strong army of 40,000 people who are in direct touch with us. Social media has helped to communicate with the public in sharing official information.
Q: What are the special requirements to issue passes, especially for volunteers who reach out to the needy. Are they eligible?
A: Pass will be issued either by the deputy commissioner or the assistant commissioner. In case of unfortunate death or grave medical reasons, police will help and issue passes based on merit.
Q: Along with being an IPS officer, you are also a medical doctor. As a doctor what would you like to say about the future in connection to coronavirus? Any positive thoughts?
A: The world has survived many forms of virus, but coronavirus we cannot brush aside as it depends on how responsibly we behave. There is no need to assume that this is the end of the world. Hand hygiene is the most important factor in this, so do not touch your face, and wear mask. Even a home-made mask is effective. Keep off, break the chain, behave responsibly. Let us have great will power to tackle it as a nation. By following guidelines strictly, we should be able to win over this virus.
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