Ever since the lockdown was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 25 March, 2020, to curb the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, the state and central forces have been given the task of enforcing strict lockdown measures.
The Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF), which has the mammoth task of keeping around 135 crore inside their homes, are exposed to the virus on a daily basis.
CAPF duties include guarding containment zones, enforcing lockdown measures, and ensuring people stay in quarantine, and handling thousands of migrants trying to get home hitting streets.
Firstpost spoke to officials from three Central forces actively involved in helping sanitize areas, distribute food packets, and keeping law and order.
Central Industrial Security Force (CISF)
The Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) is a Central Armed Police Force in India, which comes under the Ministry of Home Affairs, with its headquarters in Delhi.
A CISF official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Firstpost that officers are working around the clock due to the rising cases in the country. Some of the work carried out by CISF personnel includes distributing ration in villages, sanitising public spaces and buildings with local civic authorities.
“Other offices and departments might have reduced their staff, but we can’t afford to do so. Whether its providing security at various ports, industries like hydrocarbons, thermal power stations, steel industries, and so on, all of them are dependent on us to safeguard them,” he said.
He also noted that the special fire wing of the CISF has been instrumental in carrying out sanitisation work in various districts in public spaces and various buildings. “Our special fire department wing is highly specialised and is trained for industrial fire outbreaks, but with the threat of blazes reducing with more than half industries cutting down on work, they have teamed up with local civic bodies to help them sanitise areas, especially red zones and hotspot areas of various districts.”
The CISF is in charge of security at all commercial airports. “Our officers are exposed as these cargo flights come from international countries.” the official told Firstpost.
So far two CISF personnel have tested positive in Delhi — one staffer was posted at Delhi airport while the other was working under Delhi Metro’s Quick Response Team (QRT).
Recently, 9 of 12 CISF personal working in Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport (CSMIA) recovered from the virus.
Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF)
The country’s largest paramilitary force, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), is another major branch of the central armed forces.
One of the main functions of the CRPF is to help state administration maintain law and order. A CRPF official told Firstpost that the paramilitary forces aren’t just maintaining law and order in Delhi but are also setting up isolation wards for COVID-19 patients in the National Capital.
“With the rising number of attacks on the medical staff, ensuring their safety is now a major concern. We work in co-ordination with district authorities to provide them with security. We recently also donated one lakh masks to AIIMS Delhi.” the official said.
“We are meant to help state administration by sharing their workload. The Centre has adopted some villages and areas in which we take the task of distributing food, ration, masks, sanitisers. In some parts, due to a shortage of masks, we have also set up stations and made medical masks for the people.” the official added.
As of 1 May, the number of COVID-19 cases in the battalion has crossed 60.
Border Security Force (BSF)
The Border Security Force is the force deployed at the border areas of India. But with the lockdown in place and most countries having shut down their borders, there have been no major activities such as infiltration of terrorists, human trafficking, or drug smuggling along India’s borders with Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Even though border with Bangladesh, Nepal, China, Pakistan are all closed, the BSF is maintaining its vigil, an official told Firstpost.
In Delhi itself, the BSF has deployed 10 battalions. “We are running a couple of isolation wards and hospitals in Delhi and Bangalore. We are helping state administrations all over the country. Whether it is contact tracing, providing security to medics, distributing food packets or medicines, we are the second line of defense, the backup plan, the first being the state police in civic areas.” he noted.
It is clear that the governments, whether state or Central, depend heavily on these forces to carry out duties and ensure that the lockdown is being followed. Keeping that in mind, it becomes even more important for the government to oversee that these forces are protected well, considering if the virus hits the forces, it will handicap the government’s efforts in tackling the global pandemic.
So far, the situation hasn’t gotten out of hand yet, but in states which have been heavily affected by the outbreak — Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh — the situation might turn bad.
Given below are some figures reported from certain states where police tested positive for COVID-19.
Rising infections among on-duty personnel have become a cause of concern for Maharashtra. Just earlier this week, the state government reported that the number of COVID-19 cases in state police crossed 100, reports Indian Express. The Mumbai Police has already lost three policemen to the infection.
Mumbai commissioner of police Param Bir Singh also ordered all personnel above the age of 55 to stay home until the countrywide lockdown imposed to combat the coronavirus ends. The order was issued after three police personnel died due to Covid-19 this month. All three policemen were over 50 years of age.
As per a report in NDTV, 107 policemen in the state have tested positive for COVID-19, of which seven of them have recovered.
Madhya Pradesh with over 2,600 cases, is reeling under the pandemic.
Thirty-four personnel, including some officers, have tested coronavirus positive in Bhopal so far, a top official told PTI.
“With a policeman in our cyber cell testing coronavirus positive this morning, 34 of our personnel, including officers, have been infected so far,” Bhopal additional director general of police, Upendra Jain, told PTI. Around 30 of their family have also contracted the infection, he added.
In order to curb the spread of the virus and to keep their family members safe, around 2,100 personnel in the city are not going home after duty.
With six personnel from a Delhi-based battalion of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) testing positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, the total number of infected troops in this unit now stands at 52, reported PTI.
The Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) said that in the past 48 hours, five jawans have tested positive for COVID-19 in Delhi. Two of them were on law and order duty in Delhi with police.
According to Hindustan Times, with four cases being reported on Thursday, the total number of Delhi Police personnel infected with the virus rose to 36.
The Uttar Pradesh Police has seen 28 cops test positive. Director-General of Police Hitesh Chandra Awasthi told PTI, “Till Thursday, 28 policemen have been found coronavirus positive in different districts of the state.”
The police have also ordered over 10,000 Personal Protective Equipment and asked those over 55 with a history of poor health to stay off the front line duty.
Asked about the number of personnel under quarantine, Awasthi said: “This number continues to change, but we are doing whatever is possible for saving our forces from the virus.”
A ‘police corona helpline’ has been set up at the DGP headquarters in Lucknow for guidance and counselling for personnel.
A woman Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) attached to the Ahmedabad city crime branch had tested coronavirus positive last week, reported PTI. So far, 46 police personnel in the city have tested positive for the infection.
Around 200 police were also put under home quarantine as a precautionary measure. “Eleven of them have recovered and got discharged,” said Deputy Commissioner of Police, Control Room, Vijay Patel.
In addition to that, 130 CRPF personnel have been quarantined after their colleague, a Rapid Action Force (RAF) jawan, tested positive for coronavirus in Ahmedabad.
The RAF jawan was asymptomatic and went for coronavirus testing on his own accord, officials said. The battalion is based in Ahmedabad.
It is clear that the Central Armed Police Forces form the backbone of the government lockdown. Without their support, carrying out a one- and-a-half month lockdown (and counting) in a country of this size and population would be an almost impossible task.
With inputs from agencies