In Focus

Colaba, MRA Marg cops put all on hold, fight COVID

By Manu Shrivastava

With the COVID-19 threat far from over, Colaba – despite the slum population and the surge in proximity issues – has managed to stay relatively clean of the scourge. The numbers are in control and the police must be given the credit for most of it.

COPS OUT: The Colaba Police personnel keeping crowds at bay during the lockdown
Colaba Police Station’s Senior Inspector Shivaji Phadtare has seen the worst during 32 years of his police service but never imagined that in the year and half of his posting at Colaba, he would have to tackle the worst challenges being faced by the world over today. And, taking on the mammoth task of handling the COVID-19 situation in the high-profile Colaba ward, Mr Phadtare does the job commendably.

More than three months into the lockdown, Mumbai continues to remain the worst-affected zone in the country. Even as Section 144 was imposed on 1 July 2020 in the city by Deputy Commissioner of Police, Pranaya Ashok, Mumbai reels under the COVID-19 crisis like never before. Amid the increasing number of cases in the city, Colaba and surrounding areas have managed to contain the outbreak…somehow! And, besides the municipal medical personnel, it’s the police who have helped in maintaining the situation by ensuring strict implementation of the lockdown guidelines in the area.

Mr Phadtare, who has been reporting to duty every day, without a break and without fail ensuring the safety of residents, hasn’t rested properly in the last three months. And, handling crowds and keeping morale of his staff high during these trying times is no easy task. “Police service is anyway a stressful job…COVID has made it more challenging,” he says.

ALL EYES: Colaba Police Station Senior Inspector Shivaji Phadtare keeps a tight vigil
And, if it’s not the demanding job, it’s the long commute from his residence every day and the ‘health’ risks of being outdoors that make it more difficult. “While I am at work for more than 12 hours every day, my wife Ujwala and two children worry endlessly for me.” News of police personnel testing positive for COVID-19 only make things worse but, Mr Phadtare insists, “I cannot relent…I have to lead the way for my staff.”

His team that comprises “180 officers and men” of which “30 odd members of high-risk and with comorbidity have been sent on compulsory leave for safety” has been upbeat and steadfast throughout the lockdown. Despite “precautions and taking vitamin supplements”, several police personnel across the city have been infected, including “eight cases, till date, at Colaba Police Station.”

According to him, “mostly residents have been cooperative but we have to keep reminding them to wear masks.” Colaba has registered a 75 per cent rate of discharge, the highest among Mumbai’s 24 wards and it’s the constant efforts of the police that have ensured strict implementation of the BMC guidelines.

With an increasing number of people getting infected with every passing day in Mumbai and the state, Coronavirus has become a part of our lives now. Among the police, it’s the women personnel who brave immense difficulties to fulfil their service responsibilities.

Police Inspector Shabana Shaikh posted at MRA Marg Police Station worked gruelling hours since the beginning of the lockdown, all through Ramzan despite keeping rozas regularly, policing the commercial and residential pockets in the area. “We have day and night duties and a 10-hour shift easily becomes 15-16 hours of work in no time,” especially on days “when a 108 Call for a COVID suspect is made and the patient has to be admitted in a hospital.” It’s difficult to find a hospital with an available bed. But, the problems just don’t end here. There are all kinds of scenarios that Shabana has to manage. “Sometimes the patient tries to run away and it becomes tricky to catch him as everyone is worried to touch and handle, on other times, the ambulance personnel refuse to handle COVID suspect patients.”

DUTY FIRST: MRA Marg Police Inspector Shabana Shaikh puts duty before all
Being an officer, Shabana also has to “interact with and support the staff and resolve their issues” thereby increasing “the risks too.” On her family, she says, “My husband and, especially, both daughters worry for me, each time I step out of the house.” The worry only worsens when she returns from work as she is instructed by the daughters to “keep her bag out of the living space and take a bath before touching anything in the house.”

Talking of rewards, “It feels good when people come up to us and compliment us on the work we have been doing. It still has been the most challenging tasks in my 28 years of service,” she maintains.

It is due to efforts of officers like Shivaji Phadtare, Shabana Shaikh and hundreds of officers and constabulary staff that Colaba and adjoining areas, despite the demographics and crowding at slums, has not become a Dharavi.

SoBo’s police have been putting religious compulsions, personal issues and gender-based difficulties on hold to attend to duty. It is this sense of duty and commitment that has helped Mumbai’s oldest zone crawl its way out of the COVID-19 situation to safety; for now, at least.