by Masood Hussain
SRINAGAR: If the hammer is the only instrument you have, everything looks like a nail. This adage aptly describes how the Jammu and Kashmir Police are handling the pandemic across Kashmir’s 10 districts.
The police’s drive to restrict the spread of the virus by penalising commoners is numerically more than the number of people actually impacted by the pandemic, data generated from police’s public relation statements suggest.
In the 72 days ending June 30, the 10 districts of Kashmir registered overall Covid19 morbidity of 107133 people. Calculations based on the routine daily statistical sheets – available online, suggest that as many as 921 people died of the viral infection in Kashmir.
In the same period, interestingly, the Jammu and Kashmir Police said they have fined 166423 individuals as part of its “special drive” against the “violators of Covid19 guidelines/rules” with the objective to ensure that people “adhere to SOPs /guidelines envisioned by the government to curb Covid19 pandemic.”
From all these people, the police said, they have recovered Rs 23846646 (Rs 2.38 crore).
But this is not the only action that the police have taken against the violators of the Covid19 protocols. The police registered 2932 FIRs and formally arrested 5314 people. Now all these people will be formally charge-sheeted and they will spend their own time and resources to prove their innocence in the court of law. Some of these cases may take five years or even a decade, lawyers said.
In statistical terms, it means that the Jammu and Police fined 155 people for every 100 people who were infected by the Covid19 in Kashmir. There were nearly three thousand police cases and more than 5000 arrests even when the Covid19 deaths were less than 1000. The highest number of police cases was registered in May when 3778 people were arrested in 1917 cases.
On average police collected penalties worth Rs 331203 daily. It means every single person caught “violating the SOPs” coughed up Rs 143, by an average.
The “overdrive” is the source of a serious concern that society has been expressing for the last few days. A general refrain is that can an avowed welfare state penalise citizenry for not adhering to pandemic protocols by ignoring the larger reality that the incomes have evaporated and no help has come from the consolidated fund.
“It would have been impressive had the police given masks in exchange for the hefty penalties it imposes, retaining part as fine and part as cost of the masks,” one small shopkeeper said, refusing point-blank to be named, said. He was fined for not wearing a mask while he was driving his car alone. “First I have to explore the ways and means to earn, then I have to pay fine and then purchase masks and sanitisers if I somehow miss to wear it.” (Srinagar police Twitter handle displays photographs of cops tying masks on “violators” faces.)
The second aspect is that the police are imposing fines and offering the receipts of the Indian Red Cross Society (not the International Committee of The Red Cross (ICRC), even though it uses its logo). This tantamount to extortion in the name of the Red Cross Society, a state-controlled ‘charity’. Interestingly the Red Cross officials have said they have no control over the situation as it has been “directed from above”. Interestingly, the President of India is the President of IRCS, an East India Company relief society that the republic inherited in 1947 when the British left.
Imposing fines is within the law governing the management of the epidemics. But the governance structure has always kept in mind the state of people’s welfare while doing so. Throughout the developing and developed world, the emphasis has remained on educating people and very limited coercion. For most of the last 72 days, Kashmir is by and large closed. Even when the markets open, the footfalls are thin and people empty-pocketed. Right now when most of Kashmir is open and efforts are underway to explore the possibility of school re-opening, Pulwama, one south Kashmir district is still under literal lock and key.
The fine imposition is gradually emerging new normality and now even civil administration is highlighting it as an achievement.
An official spokesman on Friday quoted Deputy Commissioner Kupwara saying that the district has strictly enforced the Covid SOPs and rules and – while doing so, around Rs 23 lakh fine has been realised since April 1, 2021. It was not immediately known if the fine was collected by the cops or by the civil administration and if at all it is separate from what the police routinely claims to have collected on a daily basis.
People have been pointing out that the rigorous imposition seemingly is Kashmir specific and lacks even a closer parallel either in Ladakh or in Jammu, the two other parts of the erstwhile state.
In the first three days of July, the police have already collected a fine of Rs 1574110 from 12881 ‘violators’. Besides, four people have been arrested as two formal cases were registered.