Kolkata Police Commissioner Anuj Sharma, who has recently recovered from Covid-19, is already up and about and is tasked with handling an uphill challenge: crowd control in the city during Durga Puja revelry in the midst of a raging pandemic.
While Bengal's Mamata Banerjee government has allowed community pujas with certain strict Covid protocol riders and even funded them from the exchequer, the possibility of no-bar pandal hopping has kept the city’s medical fraternity thoroughly apprehensive about a sharp spike in fresh cases.
Some 2,500 Kolkata Police personnel have already been infected by the virus in the line of duty in the past six months, and at least 10 of them have succumbed. Undeterred, the department would have around 16,000 personnel deployed on the ground across the city 24/7 for the five days of the pujas.
In an exclusive interview to News18.com, Sharma assured that the city police would do every bit to ensure that both the public as well as his forces are kept safe during the festival. Excerpts from that interview:
The challenges involved in managing Durga Puja this year are clearly different from any of the previous years. How is Kolkata Police gearing up for those challenges?
See, we have been dealing with this pandemic for the past six months. In the pre-lockdown days as well as during lockdown and post-lockdown period, Kolkata Police officers have risen to the occasion. And we have been able to multi-task… multi-task in a way that apart from the routine policing which we usually do, we also jumped into this arena of making people aware of the need for physical distancing and the requirement of wearing masks and sanitisation. We held a lot of activities during the lockdown and during (cyclone) Amphan.
With the pujas coming up, the government has permitted puja committees to hold the puja but with additional responsibilities. Like they have to build open pandals, that they must keep provisions for masks, sanitisers and so on. The responsibility lies with the puja committees to adhere to them. It’s our responsibility to guide the committees as per the government order. For that we already had meetings with the committees and have made physical inspections (of the pandals). As of date we have found that all the committees are complying with the instructions given in the government order.
With open pandals, social distancing and with the puja committees assuring they would do their bit and the police at the spot to guide, it is now the responsibility of everyone… the committees, the police and the public to make sure that protocols are followed. The media also needs to heighten awareness.
In Kerala there has been a sharp rise in Covid cases after Onam. In Bengal, too, there are serious apprehensions of drastic increase after the pujas. How sensitive is the Kolkata Police to this possibility?
It is a serious challenge for us. And we have to ensure that things remain safe since permission to hold pujas has been given. People are already coming out in huge numbers. They want to participate in the pujas and celebrate. And we will try to fulfil our responsibilities to the best of our ability.
What is Kolkata Police’s advice to people who would try to push the pandemic distress on the backburner for five days and come out to celebrate?
We have already initiated social media campaigns making it mandatory for pandal hoppers to wear masks. We have already released the first video on Thursday. The puja committees are doing their bit. On our part, we will also do whatever is required to be done, including carrying out social media campaigns and on-the-ground activity. We are asserting social distancing, wearing of masks and regular washing of hands.
So, would you be monitoring these protocols on the ground as and when the puja revelry starts?
Most definitely. We will be in continuous monitoring mode.
Given the fact that police have already been infected in great numbers in the line of duty, what are the precautions you plan to implement for your force during the pujas?
All our personnel who are being deployed are being adequately briefed and are being sensitised about the need to maintain social distancing. Besides that, we are providing all personnel with face shields, N95 masks, gloves and bottles of hand sanitisers which they can keep in their pockets and use regularly to clean their hands. We are taking all precautions necessary and to their fullest limit.
Would there be special initiatives with respect to maintenance of traffic movements this year?
We have already laid down our traffic plans for this year. Last year, our traffic management was very good and we hope to replicate it. We won’t impose any special restrictions this year…
But the government is encouraging driving through the pandals for a sneak peek of idols without getting down from the vehicles and making a crowd…
Yes, we are encouraging that as well, wherever possible.
So, what is your message to the people who would flock to the city for puja revelry and risk getting infected?
I would ask them to follow pandemic protocols and would want to assure them that Kolkata Police would be with you every step of your way to ensure that you remain safe during the festival.