The decision of the Kerala government to entrust contact-tracing for COVID-19 to police is ill-advised on several counts.
Heavy-handed measures will only generate public resentment and resistance, with some people even finding ingenious ways to dodge the restrictions.
The authorities think that strict rules and strong enforcement are needed to achieve their goals. However, it is better for them to remember that their rule making powers, as Erskine May said in respect of legislative powers of British Parliament, is limited by the willingness of the people to obey or people’s power to resist.
The police are a high risk group, as far as chances of spread of COVID-19 among them are concerned, owing to a host of factors. They already have to interact with people at close quarters. The tendency of many of them to abuse and manhandle people only adds to the risk. The condition of their camps and lay-out of their residential quarters could also contribute towards faster spread of the disease. At the same time, it is important to keep the force free of infections as their services are crucial in other areas as maintenance of law and order, prevention of crime and emergency response. So, they should be kept out of the business of contacting potential COVID-19 patients. They are already dealing with a stupendous number of about 2.7 lakh cases in connection with enforcement of COVID-19 restrictions.
The government is entrusting the job to police not because they have nobody else to do the job. The staffs of many government departments are idling at home, with no salary cuts at these times. They could be deployed for the work. It was strange that government could not even find data entry operators for COVID-19 testing centres and had to recruit fresh when many typists and data entry operators of the government were sitting at home.
Healthcare is a civilian task for which even ‘civil’ police officers need not be involved.