CHANDIGARH — On June 14, the Punjab government launched Mission Fateh to encourage citizens to continue to observe precautions to stem the transmission of the novel coronavirus.
Citizens who diligently follow health advisories would be honoured with T-shirts bearing Chief Minister Amarinder Singh’s signature — and those who broke the law would be fined.
The Punjab police along with some other departments are now authorised to fine citizens up to Rs 500 for violating COVID-related restrictions like not wearing a mask or spitting in public, yet the officials — as HuffPost India has learnt — is yet to figure out how to account for the money they have been collecting.
The officials not below the post of Block Development and Panchayat Officer, Naib Tehsildar and any official authorised by Deputy Commissioners under the provisions of Epidemic Disease Act. The fine collected by these officials will get deposited further into the account of the health department.
Thus far, HuffPost India has learnt, the officials have been accounting for a part of fines or “challans” under an accounting-head called “private books”.
Documents show these private books are maintained SAS Nagar (Mohali) Police department, who has been recording the challan money collected against printouts of a sample receipt sent by the Punjab health department.
These so-called receipts do not have any serial numbers. Before any challan, the police write down an arbitrary serial number by hand — making it impossible to trace these receipts in any way.
The matter came to light when this correspondent was fined for not wearing a mask while driving her own car. Let the record state that the windows of her car were up.
The sub-inspector issuing the challan handed over receipt number ‘155+H’ on June 14. But when this correspondent visited the district administration office, Gurpreet Singh, a clerical staff assigned to issue challan books to the police department said he had not issued any challan book bearing this receipt number.
Later, Head Constable Sukhdev Raj Singh who was assigned to collect cash of COVID 19 challans too claimed ignorance of the challan receipt. However, he informed that officials authorized to challans are also depositing the money directly with the health department.
On tracking further, this correspondent found that the challan was issued under the jurisdiction of phase VIII police station of the same district.
SHO Rajnish Kumar of phase VIII, Mohali accepted the fact that the challans were indeed issued against the printouts of a sample receipt but said that it was necessary to put an immediate curb on the speed of the infectious disease.
“There was no time to get the challan books printed and hence on the directions of the senior officials, we began the drive by taking the printouts on the sample receipt sent by the health department,” said Inspector Rajnish.
He said that the amount collected through these printouts gets accounted for in register number 5 maintained in every police station but is not shared with the health department or with the state government. He claimed that the challan issued to this journalist was mentioned in the register.
To stop the community transmission of COVID 19 in the state was our top priority. There was no time to get the challan books printed and hence on the directions of the senior officials, we immediately began the drive by taking the printouts on the sample receipt sent by the health department.Inspector Rajnish, SHO, PH-8, Mohali District
“Every two to three days, our cops visit the treasury separately and deposit the lump-sum money in the account of the Punjab health department,” said the SHO.
The claim was however denied by District Treasury officer Sohanjit Singh and it was found later that the cops are depositing the lumpsum money individually with a cashier in the local civil surgeon’s office.
However, after concerns were raised within the police department over the ambiguity in the collection process, challan books were printed and distributed in June but the cops are using it rarely.
“We have so far distributed over 18 challan books since June 2 but none of it has reached us,” an assistant working in the police department told HuffPost India.
Challan targets worries cops
The challan receipt-bearing number 155+H has confirmed that Rs 500 was taken from this correspondent but does not have any mention of the violation. The policewoman also forgot to mention her service or identity number which is mandatory to be mentioned on every challan.
A similar concern was also raised by many other citizens on social media when similar receipts without bearing any serial number were issued to the public.
Some cops told HuffPost India that due to the long working hours of the police during COVID 19, the majority of the cops are under extreme stress. Also, they were given specific targets of collecting challans according to population statistics of an area.
“Some women cops are leaving their homes as early as 4 am every day to do rotation duties in the containment zones, on the check posts and also issuing challans in various areas till late night. A change in behavior is indeed noticed in many cops in my area,” said an area SHO on condition of anonymity.
Despite being aware of the issue, the Punjab health department has maintained a deafening silence into the matter. Sources at the health department told HuffPost India that the department does not want to create a tussle with the police department during pandemic times.
HuffPost India has reached out to Punjab health minister Balbir Singh Sidhu to know as to how his department is maintaining a record of the penalty money sent by the police department. Also, we have reached out to Mohali deputy Commissioner Girish Dayalan for the comments. The story will be updated on getting a reply.