LAHORE: The relaunch of the Punjab Police’s old schemes with new names by the PML-N government for facilitation of the public has created a heated debate in the police circles about introducing the culture/trend of attributing the previous projects to the ‘new initiatives’ of the ruling regime.

Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz has, so far, relaunched three major projects, namely the Punjab Police Women Safety App, Panic Button and Free WiFi, which were introduced by the previous governments.

The Punjab Police initiatives were already providing relief to millions of people, particularly the women and children, across the province. Two of them were repeatedly launched during the various successive governments and the regimes of the Punjab Police.

There are reports that more such old projects have been identified to be inaugurated by the incumbent government at a time when the Punjab Police is facing acute shortage of funds to discharge core functions, including the cost of investigation, provision of petrol/diesel and the repair & maintenance of the police vehicles.

CM Maryam inaugurating projects already launched years back; ‘relaunched projects’ include women safety app, Panic Button, free WiFi

An official says this Punjab Police Women Safety App was launched by the Punjab Safe City Authority (PSCA) in the first week of November 2020 during the tenure of the then Inspector General of Police Inam Ghani in the aftermath of the horrific gang-rape of a woman on Lahore-Sialkot motorway that caused outrage across the country. It enables the women to contact the police through a message without making any calls and helps the police trace the location of the women going anywhere through their smartphones. It also provides a facility to the women for ‘live chat’ to reach a representative of the Punjab Police. The official says that over 350,000 women have already installed the Punjab Police Women Safety App in the province so far. Interestingly, the PSCA also rendered its help and provided expertise to develop the same app in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Earlier, the caretaker CM Mohsin Naqvi had also launched the same app in March of the last year (2023) in the name of ‘Meri Awaaz’.

The official informs that the app was prepared by the Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB) and the women were given access to contact the police anywhere across the province to get help to address the chronic issues of violence and harassment within no time.

CM Maryam relaunched the same app by inaugurating the first virtual women police station in Lahore in April this year with new name of ‘Meri Awaz, Maryam Nawaz’. She suggested to the women to contact police through the women safety app’s live chat and video call features.

In April, Maryam Nawaz took credit for introducing ‘Panic Button’ to seek prompt police help. She announced that the PSCA had installed nearly 100 modern emergency panic buttons in and outside the colleges, universities and other places of Lahore, including markets, bazaars, intersections etc. In case of any danger or feeling of being unsafe, women could press the button to connect directly with the emergency 15 live hotline, she said. The CM added that panic buttons installed at universities and colleges, markets, intersections and bazaars would be connected to the Safe City immediately by pressing them.

On the other hand, the official says the same scheme was first launched by the Punjab Police under the name of ‘Emergency Alert System’ following the security situation in January 2015 during the tenure of the then IGP Mushtaq Ahmad Sukhera. The then DIG Operations Lahore Dr Haider Ashraf had designed and launched the scheme, installing panic buttons at 335 schools of the city alone, directing the police to respond quickly once the button was pressed.

In June 2016, the then Multan Regional Police Officer (RPO) Sultan Azam Taimuri launched a mobile app, providing a facility with the new name of ‘Panic Alarm’ for the people to report crimes and incidents to seek prompt police help. The facility was modified by the government in 2017 with the coordination of the three departments, including the PSCA, giving access to the women for reporting harassment, violence and other incidents to make the cities and places safe and secure for them across the province.

Later, in January 2020, the then Rawalpindi RPO Dr Sohail Habib Tajik relaunched the same facility with the name of ‘helper button’ in all the police stations to facilitate the citizens for registering complaints about any criminal activity.

The PITB had provided free WiFi facility for the first time in Punjab in 2017 by establishing multiple stations across the province at public places.

The project was suspended in 2019 reportedly due to the nonpayment of dues by the Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL) but was resumed following a public outcry for the restoration of the facility. It again faced suspension in 2020 for not being on the ‘government priority’ while there were also some conflicting reports that the free WiFi facility might be a risk to national security through its misuse by certain elements, the official says.

However, CM Maryam Nawaz relaunched the same project last month under the name of ‘CM Maryam Nawaz Free WiFi’ at more than 50 locations across Lahore.

Independent police circles believe that the relaunch of the old schemes would cause political damage to the repute of the PM-N government as it has been strongly criticising the PTI government in the past for renaming its projects in the province.

An official says that some officers in the formal and informal meetings have expressed concerns at the role of some of their colleagues for misleading CM Maryam Nawaz about the factual situation regarding the old projects being relaunched under the ‘new title’ in order to please her. He says that the chief minister is being kept in the dark that the recent activities (relaunch of old schemes) have tarnished the image of her government in the public.

Published in Dawn, June 24th, 2024

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