Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s sudden announcement of a 21-day nationwide lockdown from March 24 midnight put 80-year-old Chandranath Banerjee and his wife in a fix.
The residents of North Lake area in West Bengal’s Purulia town exhausted their provisions in two days into the lockdown as they could not stock enough in a short notice. Their only son — a cancer patient — was out of the town for treatment.
The geriatric couple was in two minds about going out to buy groceries as people of their age group are highly prone to COVID-19. It was then their equally-anxious son got to know about a helpline (90832 69418) being activated by police in Purulia to ‘run errands’ for the elderly staying alone.
After the couple had handed over to the police a list of requirements, Paromita Samaddar, the officer-in-charge of Sadar Women Police Station, delivered the groceries in their doorstep. Police have provided similar helpline numbers in all the major towns and cities in West Bengal, including Kolkata (98300 88884).
Samaddar says they receive around 40 to 50 calls everyday with the request for delivery of grocery, medicines, etc. The callers also seek the police’s help with banking works. Recently, an 85-year-old man approached the Purulia police to help him withdraw money from an ATM counter as he could not trust his son.
Besides, police are also providing food to the destitute. “From March 27 to April 4, we have provided food to more than 100 people daily. But now that the state government started giving rations even to non-ration card holders, the load on us has reduced,” says Samaddar.
Apart from taking on the role of a ‘delivery person’, the police have been wearing many other hats like blood donors and singers to ease the lockdown blues of the citizens.
Since April 2, every police unit has been donating 50 units of blood daily as blood banks across the state had dried up due to restrictions on voluntary donation camps. The initiative will continue throughout the month.
In normal circumstance, West Bengal has a daily requirement of at least 24,000 units. But it has now come down to around 1,000 units as many non-emergency operations have been postponed and even road accident cases dropped significantly.
Blood banks are, however, finding it difficult even to meet that truncated demands as 90-95 per cent of their supply comes from donation camps organised by political parties, clubs and other organisations.
In yet another public-outreach initiative, police in Kolkata and other cities have turned singers to urge people to remain indoors and protect themselves from the COVID-19 pandemic. These police personnel go to localities within their jurisdiction and sing popular Bengali songs, tweaking the lyrics to suit the current situation.
For instance, some officers in Kolkata’s Gariahat Police Station changed the lyrics of Bela Bose — a superhit song of actor, director and singer Anjan Dutta — and sang it at Mandivelle Gardens in south Kolkata .
“Corona mukto hoe jaabo Bela satyi, 21 diner chooto opekhaye (Bela, soon we will be free of corona, only a little wait for 21 days), an officer crooned with people cheering from balconies. Police are trying to introduce different innovations to ease the distress of the public, says Kolkata police commissioner Anuj Sharma.