NEW DELHI: Calls seeking to obtain information about COVID-19, its testing centres and lockdown related measures in the country constitute an overwhelming 91 per cent of distress messages received by a national CRPF helpline set up last week to help citizens, latest data shows.

This is in comparison to only about eight per cent of distress messages received by it for supply of essentials like rations and medicine.

The Kashmir-based ‘madadgaar’ helpline was expanded on March 26 for a pan-India coverage with the addition of WhatsApp number- 7082814411 to help those affected by lockdown and other restrictions declared by the government to contain the spread of coronavirus.

It earlier used to only serve states in the northern part, with a strong focus on Kashmir valley and Kashmiris, through its landline number 14411 and Twitter handle @CRPFmadadgaar.

As per latest data accessed by PTI, a total of 4,713 calls and messages were received by the helpline between March 26-April 2 out of which 4,289 (91 per cent) pertained to seeking information about the COVID-19 pandemic and related issues like when will the ongoing lockdown end, when will the trains services resume and even asking what kind of measures the government is taking to ensure that the disease does not spread.

The data said these information-seeking calls or messages on the telephone line, WhatsApp, Twitter, email and FaceBook were about people seeking details of testing laboratories, quarantine centres, treatment facilities in their vicinity or for places where the caller had a near or dear one residing.

People also contacted the ‘madadgaar’ helpline seeking contact details of medical and other essential services in their area, local police and administrative helplines and issues related to the ongoing 21-day lockdown that was declared on the midnight of March 24.

A number of callers also sought information about the preventive measures to be deployed to combat the viral disease that has infected lakhs of people and killed thousands across the globe.

“We had thought that the new helpline for COVID-19 will be deluged with calls for supply of rations and hence we were planning logistics and manpower for these physical deliveries.

“But we were surprised that the overwhelming majority of calls were about seeking a variety of information about the pandemic and other details related to restrictions imposed due to the lockdown,” CRPF Special Director General (JK zone) Zulfiqar Hasan told PTI.

These figures also reflect that the supply of rations and other essential goods, including that under the public distribution system (PDS) is running well in the country, the officer said.

IPS officer Hasan, the brain behind the helpline that was launched in 2017 with the specific aim to help Kashmiris in distress, said a number of people called the ‘madadgaar’ just “for seeking reassurance whether the CRPF and other security forces be there to help till the time the coronavirus challenge gets over. We assured them of our commitment.”

“We have an experienced team of young troops, led by our Assistant Commandant Gul Junaid Khan, who man the helpline and know how to deal with challenges on the ground and anxieties in the mind. In view of the increased workload, we have enhanced facilities and manpower for our helpline,” Hasan said.

Only 5.26 per cent or 248 calls made during the last week to this helpline were for supply of rations to Kashmiri families, migrant labourers and some other people who were not able to purchase these essential items of daily use.

A person in Maharashtra’s Raigarh was helped with rations on Thursday after ‘madadgaar’ involved the state police, a senior official said.

The helpline received a total of 108 calls and messages (2.29 per cent), during the same period, seeking help for supply of medicines and assistance for dialysis and blood donation, the data said.

The maximum of 4,455 contacts were made to the helpline through its landline number (14411) followed by 205 messages received on popular social media communication platform WhatsApp while the rest 52 were received either on the ‘madadgaar’ Twitter handle, FB page or email.

The senior official quoted above said the follower count on social media accounts of the ‘madadgaar’ has gone up by few thousands over the last few days and it has fetched over 1.41 lakh impressions or engagements on these mediums over the last week.

The 24×7 helpline has its official email id as [email protected]” and “[email protected] and an SMS can also be sent to it over the number 7082814411.

The Central Reserve Police Force is the country’s largest paramilitary force or Central Armed Police Force (CAPF) with a strength of about 3.25 lakh personnel deployed for a variety of internal security duties including anti-Naxal operations and counter-terrorism combat in the Kashmir valley.

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