PRONAM: A friend in need
Kolkata Police’s Pronam initiative that attends to the elderly living alone in the city has emerged as an unlikely friend for many who are nearing the dusk of their lives
79-year-old Jayati Goswami, a resident of the New Alipore locality in Kolkata, breathed a sigh of relief when she saw police officers installing CCTV cameras outside her house a few weeks ago. Goswami, a lone resident of the house, was mortally terrified after hearing of old couples being murdered in Netajinagar and other areas. The CCTV cameras are now being installed under an initiative titled 'Pronam', taken up by Kolkata Police. This is a unique undertaking where the police shoulder the responsibility of tracking and ensuring the well-being of elderly citizens. The membership to the program today stands at a staggering 14,200. The city police is implementing the project in league with an NGO called The Bengal. Rama Roy, another resident of New Alipore, was also provided with CCTV cameras by the police and she too was equally relieved.
According to doctors and psychologists, geriatric problems can manifest as physical, mental or psychological aberrations – but the anodyne which can most effectively cure these ailments is good care and companionship. As their physical strength and cognitive ability diminish, senior citizens become more vulnerable to antisocial elements in society. Mindful of these social truths and their corresponding responsibility, Kolkata Police rolled out the Pronam initiative.
In 2009, Gautam Mohan Chakraborty, then Commissioner of Police (CP), Kolkata, realised the need to provide additional benefits to elderly citizens whose numbers were increasing by the day. Studies reported a prevalence of loneliness among the old and also noted that a growing number of elderly couples are now living alone as their children are residing elsewhere due to unavoidable professional circumstances.
Pronam officially commenced with its services on June 27, 2009, and work was underway from July 1, 2009, in a dingy office at old Tollygunge police station. Pronam began reaching out with the singular motto of extending help to those elderly citizens who stay alone and ensure their safety. Beginning with approximately 10 elderly citizens, as the goodwill of the initiative gained publicity, the number of members increased rapidly and soon, within a few months, the number of members crossed 1,000. Initially, any person above the age of 65 was welcomed to join Pronam. But later, with growing influx, the criteria was narrowed to only those who stay alone and away from their kin, adhering to the original motto of the initiative.
Finally, after many modifications, it was decided that the initiative would provide care to all the elderly who lived within the city police's jurisdiction and whose children resided outside the city. Those living with their family members or relatives were barred from becoming members of Pronam. Recently, Kolkata Police has announced that they are mulling over including women above 60 years of age, as they are more vulnerable; while for men, the criteria will remain the same as before. This change has not come into effect yet but is expected to soon be underway.
Earlier, when the initiative had commenced, membership forms were provided from the Pronam office as well as from local police stations; but later, the application process was made online. However, several elderly persons complained of problems as they weren't well-versed with technology. Keeping this in mind, the old process of offline membership application has been reintroduced parallel to the online process.
Anuj Sharma, current CP, Kolkata, has expressed his interest in the project and also assured of lending utmost priority to make the city safe for elderly citizens and others. Since taking charge as CP, Sharma has insisted on fulfilling all responsibilities under Pronam. According to him, though the police have the primary task of securing the city and managing civic matters, including crime prevention, they also have a social responsibility in protecting and preserving society.
"It is an old programme. Earlier, due to some issues, the activities had reduced and the number of members had also gone down. Now, we have revived. After certain incidents in Netajinagar and Jadavpur, we felt that Pronam needs to worked on with utmost priority. Many elderly today live alone and we are trying to contact such persons for their safety and security," said Sharma.
As a top cop, Sharma emphasises on fulfilling social responsibility as an integral duty of a public servant. "We arrange health checkup camps, provide ambulance in case of a medical emergency and also assist with daily chores like providing a carpenter or electrician when required. Our primary motto is to provide security which is a crucial part of our social responsibility," Sharma added.
Sukla Taraphder, administrative officer of Pronam and a former officer of Kolkata Police, joined the initiative after her retirement. She informs that Pronam offers a range of services to its members such as emergency medical assistance, regular review of health conditions and also makes frequent calls to enquire about everyday well-being.
Each police station houses a team designed specifically for Pronam. The 13-member team consists of a liaison officer who is serving the police force as a Sub-Inspector (SI). Under the SI, an Assistant Sub-Inspector along with constables, home guards and civic volunteers are all present. These police personnel often visit homes of Pronam members to keep a track on their safety and can also be called for any need. And, if anybody needs a nurse, Pronam provides details of agencies from where services can be booked safely.
"We often receive calls from our members requesting us to accompany them to the bank as they cannot go alone. In such kinds of situations, a member of the liaison team takes the elderly to the bank and also returns them to their home. Sometimes, Pronam members also seek help for household repairs and here too, police lend assistance. During their birthdays, we wish them and also send greeting cards as a gesture. These steps might look small but to them, it makes a big difference as they feel loved and cared for," said Taraphder.
Apart from these, Pronam organises several engaging recreational activities such as picnics, sports, debate competitions and much more. Further, during the festive season of Durga Puja, Pronam arranges day-long 'Puja Parikrama' visits for its members, taking them across renowned pujas of the city where they are treated as VIPs. Kolkata Police also provides logistical support such as sending ambulances and arranging police buses for their journey.
Kalpana Biswas, a retired school teacher, became a member of Pronam approximately four years ago. "Pronam is immensely helpful for senior citizens like us. Police personnel from local police stations also keep in touch," she said, expressing her delight and gratitude.
Partha Chatterjee, a 75-year-old retired official of BSNL, also praised the activities of Pronam. He said, "They are very dedicated and we now share a cordial relation with the police officials. Nowadays, Pronam has become very active," he said. Another member, Amitava Roy, a retired mechanical engineer from Sarsuna, also praised the activities, especially during medical emergencies. He had become a member of Pronam at the time of its inception in 2009.
Another elderly woman, 76-year-old Bharati Nandi, became a member of Pronam approximately a month ago. Her son left the city due to his work and before leaving, he made arrangements for her as a member to receive help during medical emergencies.