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Mumbai never sleeps, nor do cops now
- Force struggles to cope with festival work load triggered by blasts

Mumbai, Sept. 17: They are tired and ready to drop off from the bandobast. And they are edgy.

The blasts have taken their toll on Mumbai’s police. Since August 25, with a thin force stretched to cover too many areas, 24 hours a day and seven days a week, many policemen are showing signs of cracking up.

They are also despairing because it’s a road without end. The festive season has begun and the policemen know there will be no let-up till Diwali, and then there’s Ramazan, then New Years’ Eve.…

“My children have forgotten me,” said a constable on duty at the fair at Mount Mary’s Church in Bandra, an annual gala that attracts huge crowds.

The possibility of a terror strike lurks in every crowded place. Today, the police had to evacuate Mittal Chambers — housing Corporation Bank, Global Trust Bank and credit-rating agency Crisil — in south Mumbai’s business district after a bomb hoax. In a ripple effect, the Bombay Stock Exchange was searched — just to make sure and in a sign of the nerves of the force.

The Bandra fairground, which draws around 1 lakh people on Sundays or holidays, has several security arrangements. The most visible of these are the policemen, three or four posted every 10 feet on the road leading to the church and busier parts of the fairground.

The constable, who lives in Mulund, a suburb on the Central Railway Line (Bandra is on the Western Railway Line), comes at 2 pm on the second shift and stays till 11 pm or till the time the stalls actually close down.

“I reach home well after 1 am and have to leave by 11.30 next day. When I reach home, my children are asleep. When I leave, they are in school. But I have to do this because I have a job to keep.”

This, he says, is not the worst. During Ganeshotsav, the 10-day festival that started on August 31, some policemen were on duty for almost 24 hours.

“During the visarjan, we would be at our positions by 9.30 in the morning and leave after two or three the next morning,” he said. “All leave was cancelled then.”

“My wife delivered a week ago,” says another policeman standing nearby. “But I haven’t spent any time with her or the baby. It’s a boy,” he adds, glowing. “She needs an operation, too,” he says. “We will go ahead with it when I get leave.”

But there’s a long way to go before that. After the Ganeshotsav, comes the Bandra fair, ending next Sunday, and from September 26 starts Navratri, the nine-day festival with group garba dancing events everyday, to be followed by Diwali.

“I will try to take leave once all these festivals are over,” says the proud father.

Although Mumbai is believed to be perpetually under the threat of terror and has a population of about 12 million, there are only 38,000 policemen to guard the city. Given the lack of manpower, office staff at police stations are overworked, at least in the current scenario.

“When there is a bandobast, we have to get at least 20 policemen from outside, from reserved forces or newcomers from training schools,” said an official at Samatanagar police station in Kandivli (East). “But our office staff also have to go on bandobast duty on certain days. We work 12 to 13 hours everyday.”

“There are 99 policemen at the station. There are 31 vacancies,” he adds. “Many of us suffer health problems, but there is no way out.”

There have been reports of two to three constables dying over the past two weeks due to work-related stress. One of them worked at Kandivli police station and the other at Malad police station.

Higher authorities admit that the job is causing a lot of stress.

“A policeman’s job is always stressful and of late there has been a lot of work,” says Ahmed Javed, joint commissioner of police, law and order.

But he says he is not sure that the stress is so high that it could be fatal.

“There has been only one death recently. The policeman died of cancer in the liver. That was a disease he was suffering from for some time and I am not sure if you could make work-related stress directly responsible for it.”

He says there are some checks in place to combat stress. “We held an Art of Living course recently. Health workshops are held regularly for the personnel.”

“Oh come on!” he says when suggested some more permanent remedies like increasing the workforce.

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