A letter written in the month of March 2018 by a top cop in Karnataka pointed towards political interference in the functioning of the police. The letter dashed off by Additional Director General of Police (ADGP), Rajvir Pratap Sharma, just ahead of the Karnataka elections urged the Chief Secretary to convene a meeting of all Indian Police Service (IPS) officers to discuss threadbare and evolve a strategy for the conduct of a free and fair election.
The IPS officer in a four-page letter discussed the failing law and order and cited four major incidents - the attack on Lokayukta Justice P Vishwanath Shetty, the attack by Congress MLA, N A Haris’s son Mohammad Nalpad Haris, the assault on Indian Administrative Service officer V Rashmi and an attempt by a Congress leader to set the BBMP (Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike) office on fire.
These observations are crucial especially in the wake of Bengaluru, often referred to as the garden city or the IT capital, having this dubious distinction of being second only to Delhi in terms of crime rate. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) which gathered the statistics in 2016 and released them the following year stated that Bengaluru ranked second to Delhi. In fact, Bengaluru overtook Mumbai which was in second spot for four years in a row.
In terms of violent crimes, Bengaluru stands third behind Delhi and Mumbai. The NCRB report titled ‘Crimes in India-2016’ states that Delhi stands first accounting for 38.8 per cent of total crime incidents while Bengaluru recorded 8.9 per cent. In terms of murders, there were 229 reported in 2016 while the number of rapes recorded were 879 the same year.
In 2017, the Bengaluru city police put out a report suggesting that there was an upward trend where crimes were concerned. The report stated that there were 573 robberies and 338 incidents of chain snatching. The house break-ins during day and night stood at 403 and 1,245 respectively. Molestation cases numbering 907 were also recorded in 2017, the city police report stated.
Bengaluru, no doubt, is a city that has grown very fast. While law and order remains a major concern for the city, the other issue that the IT capital is grappling with is that of the police-people ratio. It is ironic to note that in the city, there is one cop per 541 people and in the entire state, the ratio is 1:1,500.
The Emergence Of ‘Outsider’ Gangs
Police officials that Swarajya spoke with say that there has been a surge in the activities of gangs from outside. There are three major gangs which specialise in cheating, chain snatching and IT-related crimes.
The Ramji gang from Tamil Nadu has nearly 500 members operating in different parts of the city. These persons throw currency to distract a person and then they rob them. There have been several arrests carried out, but they keep adding to their group, officials say.
The other is the Irani gang from Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, which specialises in chain snatching. The number of such incidents shot up with the emergence of this gang. This gang has been operating since 2015 and has been involved in serial chain snatching cases. Several arrests have been made, but the recruitment continues.
The third is a gang from Jharkhand which only targets people on the phone. They are the ones who call and seek details of bank accounts and several vulnerable people have fallen prey.
The Police-To-People Ratio
This is one of the biggest areas of concern. The state of Karnataka has around 82,000 policemen and the police-to-people ratio is one cop per 1,500 persons. In Bengaluru, there are 25,000 police personnel and the ratio is one policeman per 541 people.
The United Nations standard prescribes one police personnel per 440 people. Police officials point out that recruitments are not taking place at the pace at which retirements are happening. There are at least 890 retirements across the state that take place every month, while the number in Bengaluru is around 20, according to City Police Commissioner T Suneel Kumar. The irony is that the recruitments are not that fast paced. This is because police personnel undergo training for one year before they are recruited into the force. This has only led to the police-people ratio widening over the years.
A report prepared by the Bureau of Police Research and Development in 2017 states that Karnataka fares worse than the states of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Jharkhand.
Karnataka has, however, managed to reduce the vacancies from 36 per cent to 21 per cent in 2017. Between 2013 and 2017, there were 24,000 constables who were recruited. Former home minister of Karnataka, Ramalinga Reddy, says that they managed to reduce the backlog a great deal as there were no recruitments between 2008 and 2013.
The police who say that they are stressed and understand the need to increase the police-people ratio have come up with a few measures to tackle this problem. The first move was to increase patrolling in the different areas of the city. The beat constable has been told to create a WhatsApp group for the area he patrols. While he is the group administrator, several active residents and like-minded persons have been added to this group. The people of the area report anything suspicious on the group immediately. This is on a trial basis, but the police feel that it would help detect crime early.
Attacks On Cops
The other problem that the city has been facing is the assault on cops. In the month of January 2018, there were nearly 13 attacks on policemen in a week and what added to the embarrassment was that videos of these incidents were shot and circulated on social media.
This demoralised the police considerably, which necessitated an emergency meeting of the police force in the city. Several police personnel alleged that the assaults were carried out by anti-social elements and also those part of political circles.
In March, a slug-fest between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress broke out over this issue. The Congress posted pictures of the accused standing along with a BJP MLA. The BJP on the other hand hit back with pictures of the accused featuring on Congress hoardings.
The city police commissioner directed his men to act stringently on these issues. He also warned of stern action against pubs and bars operating beyond the specified time.
The Issue With Nigerians
The past few years witnessed several incidents of Nigerian trouble. While the trouble was largely between the locals and Nigerians, there were instances where the Nigerians also settled their personal scores on the streets. Recently, there was a street fight between the Nigerians over the Biafra secession issue in Nigeria. Several students created a ruckus on the streets and also a fellow national was attacked and his car set ablaze.
The locals, especially in Kamanahalli area, have been at loggerheads with the Nigerians while accusing them of drugs and prostitution. The locals say that they are dirtying the streets of the city with their illegal activity. The police say that the Nigerians have indulged in several illegal activities which includes drug peddling, prostitution and fraud. Cases have been booked and steps taken to deport them.
It may be recalled that a mob had attacked a Tanzanian student in Bengaluru in 2016. A 21-year-old woman was attacked before her car was set ablaze. While the police arrested several persons in connection with this case, it was found that it was local anger which led to this incident and the mob had mistaken the lady for a Nigerian.
The police say that this animosity between the locals and the Nigerians is being resolved. The police have formed a coordination committee comprising both the locals and Nigerian representatives. All issues between them are discussed and this has reduced the animosity, the police claim. However, on issues pertaining to law and order, the police would step in.
Rot In The System
The letter shot off by R P Sharma highlights a series of issues, the main one being political interference. He said that IPS officers have been punished for discharging their duties and this has led to the police force being demoralised.
“Investigations have been hijacked by politicians in important cases and law-breakers have lost the fear of police. Again, I am not trying to be specific at the moment, but I will give specific instances to show that the flow of the investigation was changed at political behest. The specialised agencies headed by senior IPS officers have also become redundant on account of such interference,” Sharma also said.
While opposing the frequent transfers, Sharma said that the tenure has become a casualty and even the Bangalore City Police Commissioner’s post has been occupied by six officers in the last four and a half years. “Thus, the continuity, the command formation and of course the intrinsic confidence in the service members is at abysmally low levels,” the officer also said.
Amidst the shortage of staff and severe law and order problems, the Karnataka Budget that was presented on 5 July did not allocate a single penny to the Home Department which is held by Deputy Chief Minister, Dr G Parameshwara. The Rs 2.13 lakh-crore budget did not allocate a single penny to this department, probably for the first time.
The move would clearly impact the recruitment into the police force which is already short staffed. The Home Department was probably ignored to accommodate the farm loan waiver. The budget announced a farm loan waiver to the tune of Rs 34,000 crore.
In the earlier budget presented by Siddaramaiah, an allocation of Rs 250 crore was made to the Home Department. He had also proposed increasing the women strength in the police force from five to 25 per cent. Rs 5 crore was allowed to set up a cyber crime forensic laboratory.
Further, Rs 50 crore was allotted to improve the quality of police training schools, and a proposal to have high-speed broadband connections at all police training schools was also mooted. However, funds for none of these initiatives have been released as yet. With the current budget remaining silent on all these aspects, it appears as though these initiatives would be put on the back-burner for now.
Vicky Nanjappa is a freelance journalist. He tweets at @vickynanjappa.
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