Consider this. The basic salary of a constable in Maharashtra is Rs7,200 — almost half of that of his counterpart’s in Punjab. They work for 12 hours (a shift system that is peculiar to the Mumbai Police) on a normal, eventless day. When a law and order situation crops up — a bomb blast alert, a bandobast or festivals that require security arrangements — these hours can stretch into days, forcing officers to camp at their offices. More often than not, an officer on outdoor duty has to arrange for his own food. And the risk of a fatal injury or death is never far away.
A recent newspaper article reported 449 policemen who worked for the Mumbai Police died of ailments like heart attacks in the past decade. Retired IAS officer Mahesh Buch, who has worked closely with the police, isn’t surprised. “If you had similar working conditions in a factory, you would have had a strike by now,” says Buch, describing the police force as “demotivated, overstressed and overstretched”. “I may not be an expert on these matters but under the stress and strain, policemen sometimes exhibit abnormal behaviour,” he adds. “And we all must ask ourselves one question: Why?”
With only one constable available to 550 citizens, joint commissioner of police (administration) Hemant Nagrale admits the police force is understaffed. The problem, he explains, stems from the number of policemen to be deployed at a police station being decided according to criteria formed in 1960. “There is a vast difference in the population to be policed in 1960 and 2013,” he points out.
Heart diseases are one of the more well-reported medical ailments that policemen suffer.Nagrale says other afflictions include diabetes, psychiatric trauma and an incidence of Aids, and calls them “alarming”. The Maharashtra Police Kutumb Arogya Yojana, which includes around 20 hospitals in its scheme, is trying to meet the policemen’s medical challenges. “We are paying medical bills worth Rs35 crore per year and coronary heart diseases and cancer treatments take up 40% to 50% of the total budget. The scheme is applicable to the whole of Maharashtra,” says Nagrale.
Ground reality, however, seems different. A hawaldar, who requested his identity not be revealed, described the scheme as “bogus”. “The Kutumb’s health card is of no use. It is just a device to show that they are doing something for the policemen,” he alleges.
“They cover only a certain list of diseases. When it comes to big diseases, you still have to pay.” Usha Parab*, wife of another hawaldar, agrees. When her husband contracted Hepatitis C a year ago, she fought the bureaucracy till she was granted medicines worth Rs24,000 once a week. “I am educated, so I knew what to do,” says Usha, a BCom graduate.
“Maybe my husband had a cut on his finger and picked up a dead body. Maybe he got Hepatitis C through the blood. What protection do our men have? Do they have gloves or masks?”
Parab’s neighbour is assistant sub-inspector Mohan Kumar*, who watches TV at an uncomfortably loud decibel at his one room flat in Thane. The flat, provided by the police
department, is badly maintained and often lacks even running water. Kumar has worked for the force for 32 years, is blind, has lost kidney function, has less than two months to retire and is bankrupt. It has been almost 10 months since the police department cleared his medical bills, forcing Kumar to withdraw Rs4 lakh from his provident fund. Kumar is also trying to secure a job for his son in the department before he retires. “What else can he do,” asks Kumar. “It is very tough to get a job elsewhere.”
A job with the force is one of the primary demands among police families, despite the difficulties of the job. Radha Pawar’s* husband was one of two policemen killed in 2006 by a mob after a riot in Bhiwandi. “My husband left the house saying that we will meet in the morning. But the next day, we got the news that he was murdered.
We went through so much,” she says. Her only son now works for the police. An emotional Pawar refused to comment, but Parab voices the dilemma of many.
“Where else will our children get jobs? The job market is so bad. Our husbands toil for the department for years. Shouldn’t they at least ensure that their children are taken care of?” she asks.
*Names changed to protect identity