lVinita Deshmukh
20 May 2020 0

Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Supriya Sule has tweeted this morning “So proud of all our health workers and police teams ….u r truly the superstar…’’

 No dispute about the health workers who are indeed super stars: they work 24×7 despite being shabbily treated by the state government. But Ms Sule, who is a member of Parliament (MP) must also read this story about the police teams on highways who are harassing commuters even though they are carrying valid police permission passes. Indeed, while the sight of thousands and thousands of poor migrant labourers walking on national highways with women and children, across state borders is heart-wrenching, cruel and agonizing, others who are travelling in their vehicles with police permission on Maharashtra’s highways are also facing untold harassment by high-handed cops.

 A stark example is of the nearly six hour efforts by activists on 19th May that went into ensuring that a couple, who work in Pune as driver and maid and were stranded in the lockdown, reached  their village in Osmanabad district to fetch their four children.. All because along the Pune-Ahmednagar-Solapur highway, the police stopped the couple, travelling in a car, several times, citing absurd reasons like the Aadhar card isn’t clear; the police pass is not valid and even trying to extort money! The story goes thus.

On 18th May, Ashabai and Anant Patule applied for police permission with the Pune police, to travel to Osmanabad to fetch their four children who were stranded in Kasari village of Bhoom taluka in Osmanabad district.

Please note that they applied for police permission in the morning and got it only at 8pm. By then the day was almost over and they were therefore compelled to set out in the wee hours of the next morning.  For this, they hired an Innova vehicle. At around 10.30 am they were stopped by the cops at Kharda in Ahmednagar district. “The cop asked for Rs1,000, ‘’ says Mr Venkatesh, a Pune resident and their employer “as the Aadhaar card didn’t look clear. The driver’s appeal that he had no money did not pacify the cop.’’  He frantically called up Sucheta Dalal, managing editor of Moneylife, for help. Ms Dalal alerted RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar and me. She also tweeted “Dear @IPS_Association @D_Roopa_IPS @arunbothra @CPMumbaiPolice your cops want to extort money. Many of us are trying to help. Can you? @VinitaDeshmukh @VijayKumbhar62 @dvhubli location’’ 

 I called up Osmanabad superintendent of police (SP) Raj Tilak Roshan. He immediately picked up my call and, despite it not being in his jurisdiction, his office called up the cop who had stopped the couple and asked him to let them pass. He was also kind enough to WhatsApp me the mobile number of Mr Akhail Singh, SP of Ahmednagar district. This call from the Osmanabad police infuriated the cop on ground zero, says Venkatesh, and he decided to be stubborn enough not to let them pass as his boss was the police inspector of Jamkhed in Ahmadnagar district and he would abide by his orders only. However, in the meanwhile, RTI Activist Vijay Kumbhar had got into swift action. He called up the police inspector of Jamkhed (under which Kharda comes) and several other local influential people to intervene.

Thanks to Kumbhar using his good offices, finally, after one hour of ordeal the cop let the couple proceed. When I thought that all would be smooth sailing now, at around 12.30pm Venkatesh sent me a WhatsApp message stating, “I need your Osmanabad SP help now; they have been stopped at a check-naka; near Savargaon/ Naliwadgaon approximately here >:’’.  

So I called up SP Roshan again and apprised him of the situation. Again Mr Roshan promptly addressed the issue, asked his office to sort out the matter and soon the policemen who had stopped them from proceeding, let them off.  Mr Roshan’s prompt handling of the situation deserves appreciation. One wishes the system, be put in order at the outset itself, so that there is no confusion on ground zero. However, Mr Roshan stated that, at his end, to ensure that commuters are not unnecessarily harassed, he had sent dummy passengers in a vehicle on 17th May to test the cops’ execution of duty at the check posts. As per a news article in a local newspaper, the bribe offered by the dummy passengers did not work with the cops.  

 Thereafter came another hurdle, this time due to the lack of co-ordination between the health authorities of different districts! At around 1.20pm, the Patule couple was stopped at Pathrud, close to their village Kasari. It seemed like the proverbial slip betwixt the cup and the lip. Venkatesh stated the reason in his WhatsApp message thus, “…but this time she has been asked (with her husband) to go to the local government dispensary to get themselves checked before proceeding further.

At least this stoppage seems logical although I had made both of them go to the local government hospital in Pune where they were checked on 17th May and a medical certificate was issued to them.’’   What was the sense of having the medical checkup again? The absurd reason given was “because the districts are not the same.” States Venkatesh, “Just imagine what the poor have to put up with.

The couple again kept waiting here as the doctors had gone out for lunch and would come only after 2:30pm.’’ The couple who had started at 4am reached their destination at around 4pm. Pune to Osmanabad is a five-hour journey but they had to spend seven extra hours, all because of the high-handedness of the law enforcing authorities and the state’s health department. A tweet from Venkatesh says, “Finally let into the village yesterday at 3:40pm but isolation for seven days in an out-house like temporary shelter with food being given to them. She’s happy being among her people + not having to cook for 7 days.’’ 

 In fact, the ordeal does not stop for people who are going back to their villages. They are quarantined for 14 days in abysmal conditions. The couple has reached their village in Osmanabad, on their moped, after skirting various police check posts. It took them almost 20 hours to reach there. Now, they have been quarantined for 14 days under a tree in a farm. The police bring them food which they say is unpalatable. So, she has started her choolah under a tree. States Kumbhar, “these incidents must be reported to the highest authorities in the State with an appeal to take action.

Every commuter who faces such trauma should also write their complaint to the chief minister and DG police of Maharashtra. It must be recorded how inhumanly the poor are being treated in this calamity.’’ Political leaders like Supriya Sule and those in this government must to an honest reality check at Ground Zero before they brag about the police as superstars!!