In May 2016 when the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM) came to power in Kerala along with its Left Democratic Front (LDF) partners, one of the first decisions it took was to appoint Loknath Behera as the State Director General of Police (DGP).
T P Senkumar, who was replaced as the DGP, had to approach the Supreme Court to get reinstated. Behera, who belongs to the 1985 Indian Police Service (IPS) batch, had to await Senkumar’s retirement before becoming police chief again.
In such circumstances, the Opposition in Kerala could not have wished more than the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) performance audit, tabled this week in the State Assembly, for 2013-18 period.
The report, which has found glaring omissions in purchases and misuse of funds by Behera, is now helping the Opposition on two fronts.
One, to take on Behera against whom there is no love lost.
Two, it also gives the opposition, particularly the United Democratic Front (UDF) led by the Congress, to attack State Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who heads the Department of Home and in turn, the Police Department.
The CAG findings of concern are that it has pulled up the Kerala Police for 25 rifles (5.56 mm) and 12,061 live cartridges missing from the Special Armed Police (SAP) battalion in Thiruvananthapuram.
The Accountant General Kerala says no entry with regard to receipt of 25 rifles were found during the audit at the SAP camp. The Police Crime Branch wing was ordered to investigate the case of missing arms but no progress had been made.
The CAG report said that 250 dummy cartridges were used to cover up the shortage of 9 mm drill cartridges. Other violations were found in the modernisation of the police force, leading to “misappropriation of funds”.
Shortcomings found during the CAG scrutiny were purchases of bullet-resistant vehicles costing Rs 1.10 crore for VIP security without floating any tender and diversion of Rs 2.81 crore from the funds to construct quarters for 30 higher subordinates.
The funds were diverted, between November 2017 and August 2018, to build five villas for the State DGP and additional DGPs despite objections.
According to the CAG report, this was violation of the modernisation of police force guidelines, which was for improving facilities for senior subordinates. Guidelines prohibiting purchase of luxury cars were violated as 15 per cent of the 269 light motor vehicles bought by the department were luxury cars.
These vehicles were used by higher ranking officers and non-operational units such as the CB-CID. Some higher end models were bought as requirements for mobile command and control vehicles.
The report said that bullet-resistant vehicles, to be used in Naxal-infested areas, were utilised for VIP security. The findings have led to demand for a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and National Investigation Agency against Behera, due for retirement next year.
The Congress, looking to take advantage of the report, has written to Vijayan demanding Behera's removal before ordering a probe.
Kerala Chief Minister Vijayan has responded to report, saying “there are procedures how CAG reports are handled”. He said he will respond in the Assembly when it reconvenes on 2 March after a short break.
Behera, known as Supercop, has refused to speak to the media on this issue.
On Thursday (13 February), Kerala Police issued a statement that according no rifle was missing. Its crime branch would verify all the weapons again, it said.
The missing rifles had been handed over to the Armed Reserve Police camp in the State capital and documents had been retrieved . It has found fault with the handling of the records, though.
The cartridges have been missing since 1994. It was retired DGP Senkumar who constituted two separate boards that found out the bullets were missing.
A section of the media says the CAG report pertains to the 2013-2018 period and hence the role of Senkumar and his predecessor K S Balasubramanian should also be scrutinised.
Though the bullet-resistant vehicles were bought during Behera’s tenure, the decision to buy them as mobile command and control vehicles were taken during 2013-14, during Balasubramaniam's tenure.
In 2013, the decision to modify a Toyota Fortuner was taken having features such as tablet with docking station, USB TV card, software for video conferences and cameras.
Toyota Kirloskar Motors got the order for the modification but no tender was floated to ascertain the capability of the firm supplying these. The CAG report says that half the modifications were not done.
Kirloskar Motors was chosen in 2014 to modify Toyota Innova cars with high technology communication equipment but yet again the firm failed to deliver.
Decisions and orders to make these purchases were made when the Congress-led UDF was in power with Chennithala being the minister of home.
The CAG report indicts not only the current LDF Government but also the earlier UDF government.
Meanwhile, reports on Friday (14 February) said that the State Chief Secretary Tom Jose was using the vehicle bought for the DGP. The Chief Secretary, as per Kerala government regulations, cannot use the Police Department vehicles. The Chief Secretary can only use the Tourism Department vehicle.
M.R. Subramani is Executive Editor, Swarajya. He tweets @mrsubramani
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