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As Covid cases rise in Punjab, stats show police went soft on violators

As Punjab braces for stricter curbs amid an ongoing surge in coronavirus cases, a look at the statistics show how the state police force, the agency tasked with enforcing Covid-appropriate behaviour, has continued to soft pedal at a time when Assembly elections are inching closer and political leaders, cutting across party lines, lead from the front in flouting norms by holding rallies and public meetings where even basic protocol is often not followed.

The official statistics compiled by Punjab Police underline that more than 10 lakh persons were fined and a penalty of Rs 39.50 crore collected from them between May 17, 2020 and March 18 this year for various Covid norm violations.

An analysis of the data for the last four months, however, reveals how police lowered the guard and failed to crack the whip while implementing the Covid norms.

From the political class, Shiromani Akal Dal president Sukhbir Badal is among the latest to have contracted the infection. He tested positive for the virus a day after addressing a public gathering.

Prior to him, state Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal tested positive four days after he presented the state budget in the Vidhan Sabha and two days after the Assembly session got over.

Viral videos of Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh and his son Raninder on social media, singing and dancing during the wedding of
latter’s daughter drew flak from social media users for allegedly flouting the Covid norms.

Sukhbir Badal had addressed a massive rally in Khemkaran on March 15 where he announced the candidature of Virsa Singh Valtoha from the constituency. Covid norms were thrown to winds in that rally as far as wearing masks and maintaining social distancing were concerned.

Akali legislator from Batala, Lakhbir Singh Lodhinangal, who is eyeing the Fatehgarh Churian Assembly segment in the ensuing elections, has also been on a roll holding public gatherings in the constituency. Covid norms in his rallies went for a toss.

Leader of Opposition Harpal Singh Cheema too has been seen addressing press conferences with fellow politicians opting to avoid face mask.

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Both Akali Dal and Congress have for the time being cancelled their respective party rallies till March 31. The AAP, however, has announced to go ahead with its March 21 rally in Baghapurana which is to be addressed by Delhi CM and party national convenor Arvind Kejriwal. The AAP leadership claims that required precautionary measures would be in place and only leaders with stipulated time period negative testing reports would be allowed on dias.

Official data compiled by the Punjab police and accessed by The Indian Express reveals that from May 17, 2020 to March 18 this year, a fine of Rs 39.50 crore was collected from 10.29 lakh violators. As many as 3,637 FIRs were registered and 4,703 persons arrested.

In the month of March, when state started registering a Covid surge, a fine of Rs 1.43 crore was collected from 26,825 persons, 12 FIRs were registered and 10 persons arrested between March 1 and March 18.

From April to July 2020, in three months, Punjab Police collected a fine of Rs 15.28 crore. From August to November 19, in nearly four months, a fine of over Rs 17 crore was collected. However, from December to March 18, police recovered a fine amount of only Rs 7 crore. Among the violations, the fine was imposed for not wearing face masks and not maintaining social gathering.

Punjab Health and Family Welfare director Dr G B Singh said the Covid protocol for political rallies include wearing masks and maintaining social distancing. “It is for the political parties to think whether to hold political meetings or not. It is not something tobe taught. It is something they should realise on their own,” said Singh.

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