DGP Sikkim A Shankar Rao, IPS, discusses steps taken to tackle the Covid challenge, touching upon significant developments in the state. Highlights:
Measures to curb trafficking & working towards child welfare:
The situation in Sikkim isn’t very alarming when it comes to the safety of women and children. However, the administration is quite proactive in such matters. Whenever any such cases happen, there are instructions given and guidelines provided by the Supreme Court and High Court to be followed. In connection with minor girls’ safety, separate stringent laws have been formulated by the Government of India in the form of Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. In fact, over the last five years, 517 cases have been filed out of which 200 are under trial; in 148 cases, the accused have been acquitted while three cases are under appeal. Another major thing which Sikkim Police is working to execute is the DNA fingerprint lab that was not functional due to which many cases were pending. The set-up is already in process and upon its functioning, the process will get smoother within a year. The major reason suspected behind child trafficking is mostly sociological in which children come from broken families where they are left uncared for, resulting in them in drifting apart. However, the police and the administration have been given certain regulations where proper action is being taken against the accused in such cases.
Steps for better protection during the pandemic:
Sikkim Police and the entire state are blessed with cooperative people who have been of tremendous help during the pandemic. Regular video conferences have been played where safety guidelines were issued for all from time to time. Sikkim was the first state among many other states who reported 0 active Covid cases during the initial phase when others were battling with increasing figures and mounting deaths. This has happened due to the immediate and proactive steps taken by the Chief Minister of Sikkim to keep its netizens protected during the outbreak. The borders had check-posts where people would be scanned and thermally screened since Covid’s initial outbreak. Tourism and hospitality partners were made aware about the situation and all commutation from borders and other areas into Sikkim was restricted with no movement being allowed. During this phase, they had controlled the spread of the pandemic. But the problem started when the borders opened up and people started coming back to Sikkim from other places where the cases had touched 1600-1700. At this juncture, the police had placed health workers, team and sanitation workers at major check-posts to keep a tab on the entry of tourists and other travellers. It has indeed been a collective effort by the cops and the Chief Minister along with the people of the land to ensure maximum safety for all.
Safety & mental support of the frontline workers:
The pandemic has put huge physical and mental stress on everyone, especially on the frontline workers, be it doctors, police personnel or sanitation workers. Talking about pressure on the cops, it is much lesser compared to the health workers and those who are working tirelessly at Rangpo and Malli check-posts. The teams have been working day and night and have been having mental anxiety, stress and depression. The police and the administration have been aware of the issue and senior officers have been visiting them frequently during their working hours to motivate them. All safety wearables, such as PPE kits, gloves and masks have been provided to them to ensure that they do not get infected. Rotational shift provisions were allowed to give workers an ample amount of rest and occasional briefings were done at every leadership level to keep them aware about the situation. Also, regular messages about how this pandemic will soon pass like any other crisis were continuously played through announcements to keep them in high spirits. Sikkim Police joined hands with various NGOs and other sister agencies to combat this. The pandemic has made lives quite difficult but efforts have been made at different levels to keep the morale high of these frontline workers.
When we speak of the idea of community policing, the first thought that strikes us is the entire community coming forward and working together to overcome any situation and to maintain decorum in society. In Sikkim, the community has always played a major role. The village guards and health workers or the Asha workers have worked day and night and acted as the bridge of communication between the Panchayats, police and villagers. At one point, the area near Rangpo had seen a spike in cases. This had happened due to labourers engaged in road construction turning positive and from them, the infection had spread massively to almost 300 people due to which the entire area had to be contained. It was at this time that these village guards and Asha workers worked in close tandem with the police and administration to ensure that the infected people stayed at home and in their respective containment areas. Also, they maintained the guidelines and policies strictly and ensured proper isolation and restriction of movement in the area. Within a fortnight, the area became Covid free because community policing had shown its power. It was a team effort which led to this unprecedented success.
Communication as the key:
Sikkim has been blessed with overtly cooperative citizens due to which application of any strategy and overall communication is never a problem. Throughout the pandemic, the social media platform was utilised to deliver and spread messages about safety guidelines, health-related problems, emergency issues and the importance of physical distancing. Videos and Facebook posts were made regularly because digitisation is the key these days to reach out to a maximum number of people within a limited period of time. Proactive steps have been taken by Sikkim which is continuing even today. One thing that deserves special mention is the cooperation the people of Sikkim extended as a result of which things have remained more or less under control.
Sikkim tackles pandemic without many hiccups:
It is known to all that pharma companies have their hub in Sikkim. These firms have operated in full swing during the pandemic. However, certain protocols and guidelines had to be maintained keeping in mind the safety of the state and its people. It had been declared that companies would keep running but no cross-border commutation will be allowed. Workers manufacturing the medicines would have to reside within the state. One thing that was taken care of is the additional benefits of these labourers such as extra allowances and work on rotational shifts. The issues of labour unrest had started here but after proper discussion, an agreement was reached. It was something to cheer about that during the pandemic there was no dearth of any medicine and all the pharma companies operated in full swing.
Sikkim has always been a peaceful place with no cases of domestic violence and sexual abuse. However, with digitisation, cases of cybercrime have been increasing. The best part is that the Sikkim SP himself has experience in this department and that has been an added advantage. Regular videos based on cyber awareness and cybercrimes are posted on social media about scams, phishing and other related issues. Also, cyber labs have been set up to give extra protection to the people. Regular training is imparted to officers on protocols.
This profession for Rao has been an accident or luck by chance since politics had always been his focal interest. However, after having cleared the exam and getting the opportunity to serve his nation, it has been a wonderful journey so far. Initially, starting off as the Assistant Commissioner of Police of Delhi Police and later as the Enforcement Directorate, Narcotics Control Bureau, this job has given him a lot to take back.
According to him, the academy where he was trained, is a complete package. It leaves a permanent change. The way one talks, acts and behaves changes once he passes out of the academy. It is said: “You can easily differentiate between a civilian and a cop since there is a massive transformation. It is just not only one practice but a combination of many, including endurance, strength, personality and the like.”
Youth in policing:
It is one of the best options for youth to join the police force since the state needs many of them. Policing has become very complex and people from all kinds of training backgrounds are required, including engineers, doctors, lawyers and academicians. Today, law and order, security management are very complex and very challenging at the same time.
Respect from teammates is always more motivating than winning accolades or awards.
Rao’s favourite way to end a long and tiring day is to engage in sports or spend quality time with friends.
Sikkim posting has been a diverse experience for him. If one compares the policing challenges for officers with the rest of India like Punjab, UP, Maharashtra etc. comparatively they have a bigger populace to protect. Because of a lower population, the crime rate is also low. It is not so obvious with the entire North-East but in Sikkim, the crime rate is still very low which is a good sign. So one needs to cope up initially and then gradually become accustomed to the place as there is a cultural difference when it comes to the North-East compared to the rest of India.
People are very welcoming and warm in the North-East and that has been the best part about his posting in Sikkim. But there will be a regret that he did not get an opportunity to work in a bigger state. Rao thinks nobody should only be assigned to any particular state but people should have the liberty to move around from one state to another to experience and imbibe as much as possible.