Santosh Pandey, the Indian Police Service officer, talks to Mohammed Asif, the Assistant Editor of Protector magazine, about the challenges in handling the traffic during the coronavirus pandemic and innovative ways to tackle them
Q: Managing traffic has always been a challenge for a megacity like Kolkata. Since the start of the lockdown to the post COVID-19 phase, how has the management of traffic in the city undergone a change? How do you see the new scenario?
Ans: One significant change during the lockdown was the reduction and a change in the nature of transport on the roads of Kolkata. In the later phase, we saw more and more people using personal vehicles, motorcycles and bicycles. To manage this change, we had to readjust the signal timing as per the number of vehicles. We also allowed bicycles on all the roads except major arterial roads. Use of Cameras both CCTV and ANPR cameras to monitor the movement of people was a great help during the lockdown. This also led to reduction in traffic accidents in the city which was an all-time low this year. But the biggest challenge was to provide a system of safety to our men who worked in a really challenging scenario.
Q: In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, people have cut their use of public transport and are using their personal vehicles leading to a rise in pollution as well as traffic gridlocks. How are you handling this challenge?
Ans: Yes, we have seen an increase in the number of private vehicles and bicycles. But it has not led to any traffic congestion. On the contrary, it was a great relief when the reconstructed Majerhat Bridge was opened recently for traffic. It has resulted in easing of traffic in entire south Kolkata. As far as pollution is concerned, we have seen the best air quality indicators during the lockdown. Besides, we have a dedicated anti-pollution cell under Kolkata Traffic Police which is well equipped to keep a check on vehicles not following the norms.
Q: As the festive season is almost over in Kolkata, political rallies, fairs and melas will be organised in the future. How will you maintain social distancing and force people to take precautionary measures?
Ans: The most remarkable aspect of this COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown was cooperation of people and their awareness. We have seen how people have made the lockdown a great success. You can’t force the entire city to remain indoors. People did it willingly. We have seen during the pujas and other festivals, people have adapted appropriate behavior in the light of the pandemic. We keep doing awareness campaigns and people of Kolkata cooperate with us.
Q: In the aftermath of the COVID outbreak, city roads have seen a big surge in the number of cycles as well as bikes, and pedestrians. How police are going to handle such a surge in traffic?
Ans: We have earmarked roads which the bicycle riders can use. This has been done for the safety of riders as well as for maintaining a certain speed on the main arterial roads of Kolkata. Besides, we keep reviewing the traffic flow and accordingly our signal timings are set in keeping with it.
Q: How are the ‘Naka checking and other surveillance mechanisms working during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Ans: Officers and personnel have been provided with sufficient numbers of masks, sanitisers, gloves and other things. Hand hygiene and physical distancing norms are followed during such checks. Besides, we also have automatic detection and prosecution mechanisms in place in the form of CCTV, speed detector and red light violation detector cameras which immediately record and send feedback to the violators.
Q: Just like the healthcare workers, policemen on the streets are frontline COVID warriors. How are you maintaining the moral of the force high, despite several constraints?
Ans: Policemen are aware of their added responsibility as the first responders to any eventuality. Great care is taken of the police force and their family members as far as their health needs are concerned for prevention and treatment of infection. We have an online system of data management of sick persons. Besides, officers have been given responsibility to take care of the welfare of police personnel.
Q: During the Durga Puja festivities, your workload and commitment for maintaining smooth traffic flow in Kolkata must have risen enormously. With a part of the force hit by the COVID-19, how did you manage your task with the depleted strength?
Ans: It is true that some of our colleagues got this infection and a few lost their lives. But we must appreciate the great care that the organisation is taking of its men. A good personnel management strategy ensures that we don’t have to face any major shortfall during such important occasions as Durga puja and other festivals.
Q: What type of coordination is being made with the district police authorities of the bordering areas to ensure smooth traffic movement in Kolkata in the pandemic situation?
Ans: We keep coordinating with not only bordering units but all concerned units. Traffic plans for movement of heavy goods vehicles, large gatherings in or around Kolkata like Gangasagar mela are some of the areas for which detailed traffic plans are prepared and shared with the bordering units.
Q: Has the number of prosecution against rogue drivers and other traffic rule violators increased during the current situation?
Ans: We don’t set any target for the prosecution figures. An important aspect of these prosecution figures is quality prosecution which is effective. If you see this year, we have prosecuted a very high number of vehicles for unnecessary honking. Similarly, prosecution for riding without helmets is also high. However we had to face some challenge in case of drunken driving as the breath analyzers were taken off during the pandemic.
Q: Traffic police system in Kolkata is considered as the face of the entire metro police system. In view of such a perception, what steps are being taken to maintain the police – people relation in Kolkata?
Ans: We have a dedicated wing for organising community policing activities. Be it blood donation camps or distributing relief materials during the pandemic, Kolkata police has always stood with the people of Kolkata.
Q: Are the Kolkata policemen being trained to handle COVID-19 situations just like the NDRF personnel are trained to face any calamity?
Ans: For Kolkata police also this pandemic situation is a learning experience. We have seen how we managed the aftermath of Amphan amidst the pandemic. We have seen the working of our DMG team which has done a great job be it any fire incident or building collapse etc, their expertise is second to none.
Q: Any special allowance for those who have fallen sick due to the coronavirus or who might have died on duty during this period?
Ans: They were all treated free of cost. The government has given Rs one lakh to all the police personnel who tested positive. And for those who died, besides monetary benefits, a job was given to one family member.