Long working hours, stress on the job and poor diet or lack of easy availability of wholesome foods, have led to cardiac emergencies, genito urinary infection, and obesity and other lifestyle disorders among the constabulary in the past. In September 2022, at a health camp organised by the Nagpada Police Hospital, its head -- Dr Kapil Patil -- had shared, 25 per cent of Mumbai cops are obese, while 40-45 per cent suffer from diabetes.
Now, traffic police constables are facing yet another health crisis, driven by poor air quality and pollution. Over eight hours on the field manoeuvring busy traffic along critical thoroughfares have left them gasping for breath.
Dr Wiqar Shaikh, professor of medicine, Grant Medical College and Sir JJ Group of Hospitals and honorary physician, Police Hospital, Nagpada, has been observing an increase in the number of cases of traffic cops suffering from asthma, bronchitis, upper and lower respiratory tract infections caused by both bacteria and viruses. “Of the 80 patients I see each week on an average at the hospital, a majority have complaints of that can be directly related to exposure to pollution,” said Dr Shaikh.
He advised using N95 masks at all times while on duty, “and not the disposable masks”, adding, each cop be shifted from traffic related duty, every couple of years. “Most importantly, they must undergo frequent medical examination to catch any disease they might develop at an early stage,” said Dr Shaikh.
Acknowledging the long-term effects of the problem, Raj Tilak Roushan, deputy commissioner of police, traffic (HQ), said, “We are aware of the poor air quality which is a cause of concern. We have made masks available for all constables and conduct medical check-ups regularly. Those who show signs of being unfit are sent to Nagpada Police Hospital.”
‘I wear mufflers for protection’
Name: Ramchandra Bagve, constable (PIC: Vijay Bate)
Place of duty: Rawalpada junction, Dahisar East
Hours on the job: 8, at the junction where work for Metro line 7 is on
Impact on health: Bagve manages traffic at the junction with two constables in shifts. Ever since he was transferred from the Kasturba Marg Police Station to Dahisar traffic police chowkie, a year ago, he has been suffering “from breathing problems as the Metro construction throws up too much dust in the air”.
“We wear masks while on duty. I try to drink as much water as possible, which is a challenge while on duty. Cough and cold have become a part of our lives,” Bagve said.
Sanjay Lad, senior police inspector of Dahisar traffic police chowkie and Bagve’s superior said, “I have written several letters to the BMC and Metro authorities asking them to sprinkle water every alternate day on the construction sites. Face-masks are not sufficient here. Our constables have to wear mufflers to protect themselves from air pollution.”
‘Irritation led to pain in the throat’
Name: Tanaji Gurav, constable (Pic sent by Gautam)
Place of duty: Lucky Hotel junction/ Turner Road, Bandra
Hours on the job: 8
Impact on health: Tanaji Gurav visited Bhabha Hospital, in Bandra, for a check-up on Tuesday, after suffering persistent pain in his throat, which he experienced each time he would swallow his food.
“It started as an irritation which soon turned into pain, compelling me to get a check-up. Doctors have pointed to air pollution as the reason, although it does not help that I end up eating oily food while on duty. I have been prescribed medication for 15 days, after which I will have to get another check-up,” said Gurav.
Gurav does not have a fixed location for duty but is posted on busy junctions. He pointed to the “Metro rail construction at the Lucky junction which adds to air pollution”.
Senior police inspector Umesh Thite, Bandra chowky, said that the top brass recently sensitised all the departments about the prevailing poor AQI and instructed them to take precautions. “We recently had check-ups for every one,” he said.
‘Exhaust fumes have given me asthma’
Name: Jaising Naik, police sub inspector
Place of duty: Sahar traffic division
Hours on the job: 12
Impact on health: Jaising Naik has been with the Sahar traffic division for the last year-and-a-half and started experiencing problems like breathlessness only after he was transferred to the traffic division. The doctor performing a routine check-up a week ago urged him to visit the Nagpada Police Hospital for a thorough check-up. “On Tuesday I was diagnosed for asthma. Thankfully, it is in the early stages,” said Naik.
Unlike constables, officers like him have longer duty hours with no fixed locations. Naik’s area of operation covers the Chhtrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport and the Sahar division’s sprawling jurisdiction and ends at Saki Naka on one side and the Andheri railway station on the other.
His day starts at 9 am and ends at 9 pm. He is often asked to rush to spots where there are traffic snarls to check if there are adequate personnel posted. “These areas are polluted – effectively, we are surrounded by exhaust fumes and other forms of air pollution the entire day,” he said.
Senior police inspector Shivaji Bhandwalkar, Sahar traffic division said, “We are keeping a close watch on the health of our personnel, as we are aware of the AQI situation. Everybody is encouraged to get regular check-ups, so that any health issue can be flagged at the right time.”
‘We go breathless amid smoke’
Name: Nandu Sawle, constable
Place of duty: Jogeshwari-Vikhroli junction (WEH)
Hours on the job: 8
Impact on health: Sawle, who was earlier posted in Malabar Hill, got transferred to Vikhroli traffic 18 months ago. “While Malabar Hill was low in pollution, standing on the Western Express Highway (WEH) for eight hours takes a toll on us, especially since we end up inhaling smoke from heavy vehicles that run on diesel,” said Sawle. Over 50,000 vehicles pass through the WEH stretch daily and the fuel pollution is far greater on the JVLR junction compared to the interior roads, he said. “We go breathless when vehicles running past spew smoke but managing traffic and ensuring drivers obey rules is our duty,” said Sawle.
Hussain Jatkar, senior police inspector of Vikhroli traffic chowkie, said, cops suffer every winter when pollution is thick. “Constables have been advised to wear masks on duty. When metro pillars were being laid, the air quality was hugely compromised,” said Jatkar.
‘I suffer from long bouts of coughing’
Name: Shrikant Kamat, head constable
Place of duty: Vardhman Junction, Kalbadevi
Hours spent on the job: 8
Impact on health: Kamat, who has been with the Kalbadevi traffic division for close to two years, has been suffering from recurring infections in the respiratory tract for several months, leading him to the doctor’s clinic several times.
“Dust pollution is the biggest issue here and the repeated direct contact makes my eyes and nose burn. The throat goes dry within a couple of hours but we are unable to drink adequate water as we can’t leave our posts,” said Kamat. “I have had spells of coughing lasting days on end, leading to poor immunity. My family is also at risk of getting infected. The doctor advises drinking hot water, which is not always possible. I am worried about the long-term effects on my health, as I age.”
He added that the department must supply good quality face masks and glasses for protection.