The police crackdown on violators of Covid-19 related SOPs is being questioned
In a recent move, the city police have launched a crackdown on violators of the Covid-19 related Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) such as mask-wearing. The police have been arresting the violators and lodging FIRs against them.
The drive is seen by many as a poor way to contain the spread of the pandemic.
Videos and images of incidents in which the violators were subjected to corporal punishment have been doing the rounds of the social media. The civil society has come down hard on such disgraceful treatment of citizens. They are of the view that the so-called crackdown has become yet another tool in the hands of the police to make an extra buck on the go. Popular perception is that by apprehending people for not wearing facemasks or not following the timings set by the government for commercial activities, the police are ‘having their way’.
As per the statistics provided by the police, 845 FIRs have been lodged so far. Of these, 407 cases have been registered against people for not wearing masks, whereas the rest (438 FIRs) have been registered for non-compliance of other SOPs such as maintaining social distancing at public places.
Speaking to TNS, the City police chief, Ghulam Mahmood Dogar, says the third wave of coronavirus is proving the most lethal. “We cannot afford to take it easy. But some people don’t seem to realise this fact, which is why Lahore has become a danger zone.”
According to Dogar, the observance of the Covid-related SOPs is the only way to quell the spread of the virus. “We didn’t want to have to go to the extent of registering FIRs against the violators, but the attitude of a segment of the public has compelled us to take such harsh measures,” he adds.
“Violating the SOPs makes you a threat for others around you. This cannot be tolerated at any cost. That’s where the police have to intervene.”
In response to a question, the CCPO says: “The objective is deterrence. A part of the solution is to sensitise them [the public] about the importance of observing the SOPs.”
Dogar claims that after consulting with the IGP, Inam Ghani, “I have issued orders to my subordinates to observe extreme restraint, and not lodge FIRs in bulk. I have directed that the violators of SOPs should be briefly detained and released on personal surety bonds.”
Regarding the pictures and videos of mistreatment that have gone viral on social media, he called them “isolated incidents”. “Our aim is not to divest citizens of their dignity. I will take strict action against those [policemen] found involved in such incidents.”
The president of the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA), Lahore, Dr Ashraf Nizami, says the way the police see their role in checking the spread of the pandemic in the city is “quite pathetic”. “It suggests that sanity does not prevail, as far as the authorities are concerned. Instead of containing the third wave of the pandemic with a well thought out strategy, the authorities have sought the police help.”
According to Nizami, if we continue to be careless and behave irresponsibly, the virus may take a heavy toll on the population of the city as well as the country.
“A police crackdown or a smart lockdowns isn’t the solution to the problem. In fact, both are very much part of the same problem. When the police apprehend a violator and put him in the lockup, usually heavily populated, they are putting the lives of all of them in danger. It is imperative that instead of employing such methods which are likely to backfire, the government should impose a near curfew in the city, so that no one comes out in the street except the law-enforcement agencies and serious patients.”
Hassan Jahangir, SP of the City Division where most FIRs have been lodged, says the place is densely populated which is why the number of cases has gone up.
“It’s high time the people understood that it’s a matter of life and death for them and their fellow beings. If they don’t follow the SOPs, the situation can get out of control.
“Being a policeman it’s my duty to not let anyone become the cause for the spread of the virus. However, this goal cannot be achieved only through police crackdowns. Concerted efforts to spread awareness about the seriousness of the issue and how the public can contribute to making the methods effective are required.”
Jahangir also says that the police’s main focus is commercial and public places as these are hotbeds for the spread of coronavirus.
The writer is a senior journalist and can be reached at [email protected]