The second outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic was life-threatening. Positive cases spiralled in no time and the death rates were on an ever-increasing toll. While the country is braving up to witness the (expected) third-wave soon in the coming months, and government mechanisms ensuring they don’t go wrong this time, the example of strategic lockdown efforts taken in the Beed district of Maharashtra could serve as an effective model for other states to replicate to facilitate lockdown-like situations smoothly.
The Beed 2020 model was published as a case study in the public policy journal of Columbia University. The effectiveness in curbing the transmission of the virus in the district can be rightly attributed to the emergency preparedness of Superintendent of Police Harssh Poddar and his team, in charge of the law and order of the district back in 2020. Poddar is an Oxford-educated lawyer and Chevening scholar who joined the Indian Police Service (IPS) in 2013.
The model he followed with his team of officials to facilitate a systematic lockdown was so commendable that policing strategies played an instrumental role in 2020 and became the biggest reason as to why the district did well the first time and failed miserably in the second wave. In 2021, Beed has registered over 90,000 active cases so far, and along with it, the death toll skyrocketed from 12 in 2020 to 1400 in May this year. It is the worst-hit district in the entire Marathwada region.
“This pandemic added a new chapter to the history of the Maharashtra Police, one which has forged a new relationship between the police and citizens – with empathy, trust, and commitment. Beed’s example teaches us it is crucial that governments see lockdowns through the prism of facilitation rather than enforcement alone,” says Poddar. Realistic predictions of socio-economic dynamics during the period of the lockdown go a long way in achieving this goal, he adds.
Going tech-savvy for the collective good
The police employed a three-factor formula of Empathy-Enforcement-Awareness for all their strategies and execution. Unique measures like geofencing of houses, encouraging religious leaders to spread awareness and combating fake news related to COVID were spearheaded by Poddar. The digital-friendly cop focused on helping people with information online. Additionally, the social media unit of the district police monitored social media platforms 24x7 for hashtags and keyword searches, looking out for fake news, rumours and hate speech. They also closely monitored messages circulating on active WhatsApp groups.
At the end of the lockdown, they clocked the highest number of actions taken against fake news and hate speech in the state by filing 48 cases with 60 accused.
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Secondly, while other districts in the state were grappling with the return of migrated labourers, Beed handled the crisis very effectively. A dedicated control room was set up at the police headquarters, tasked with coordinating the staggered movement of labourers through nineteen selected entry points of the district. At the entry points, every returning labourer was medically screened for symptoms in order to halt the spread of the virus. Meetings appealing to the better senses of the villagers were conducted by the police to persuade them against alienating their own kith and kin. Beed is known for people migrating to Western Maharashtra and Karnataka to work in the sugarcane fields. Over 1.6 lakh labourers traversed the borders of Beed to be reunited with their families. Not a single fatality or casualty occurred in this monumental exercise.
Clearing the air of doubts
Of the many other initiatives followed, the senior police officers took to videos for spreading awareness. To keep the people updated with the changing regulations and restrictions, the police unit created videos covering topics such as e-pass criteria, the latest policy changes, permits required for professionals working in the private and government sector and many more. These videos were the mouthpiece of the police and a genuine source of updated information.
The Beed police also roped in religious leaders (priests, maulanas and pandits) and had them address the people through short videos.
Apart from working on protecting its people, the police also took strict measures to ensure that the police are protected against the virus. Face shields, N-95 masks, gloves, hand sanitisers and even PPE kits (for those deployed in containment zones and at isolation wards) were provided. A weekly schedule of disinfecting police stations, quarters and vehicles was rigorously conducted. Mobile sanitization vans zoomed across police establishments daily to disinfect equipment and articles used. Prophylactic medicines with dosage instructions continued to be supplied to every police officer in the district.
While the above-mentioned steps were taken to curb the transmission of the virus, Beed’s policing stands apart due to its community-driven approach. Such an approach replicated across the state can reduce challenges people face and we can all sail past the storm smoothly and fearlessly.