Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Will police ever be people-friendly?

(Part of my Memoirs)

The preamble to the Constitution of India should make any Indian proud. It says:

“WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign socialist secular democratic republic and to secure all its citizens:

JUSTICE, social, economic and political;

LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;

EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all

FRATERNITY is showing the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation….”

Unfortunately, the ground reality is that the instruments of the state often work just country to what is enshrined in the Constitution. Anyone who has suffered, especially at the hands of the police, will testify to that.

In the recent past, we have learnt that Ishrat Jahan was really a terrorist but several police officers themselves were implicated in a false case. We have learnt that Sadhvi Pragya spent about seven years in jail for a crime she had not committed. Those against the Modi government will continue to say that the investigating agencies U-turn under political pressure while those supporting the Modi government are convinced that in all and many other cases innocent persons were framed in false cases for political reasons. The exact truth must be known to the insiders but the harsh reality is that our police fellows are notorious for fabricating charges against innocent persons. I have personal experience of dealing with a totally false case. I was not a victim but had to get involved to save a close friend.

The episode took place between October 1991 and October 1993.

At about 9 PM on October 18, 1991 (it was Dushera Day, the day celebrated in India as a mark of victory of virtue over vice), I received a telephone call from the wife of a close friend (let me call him KG, not the real initials) that he (KG) had been arrested by the police and kept in police lock-up. She narrated the incident as described by KG.

At about 7:30 PM, KG was taking a stroll on the pavement in his locality. He saw a temporary barrier put up with a rope, a little above the ground, across the road, and two police constables standing in the middle of the road, very close to the barrier. The front wheel of a two-wheeler scooter, carrying two persons, got entangled in the rope, pulling one of the constables to the ground. The constable got up without any help and a started beating the scooter driver with his symbol of authority, the police ‘danda’. KG saw the scooter driver profusely apologising and asking for forgiveness with folded hands. After repeated requests by the two young men and KG, the constable stopped beating but continued to shout and abuse the scooter driver. The humiliated young men told the constable that they would lodge a complaint against him. Shocked at the uncivilised behaviour of the constable, KG too suggested the same course of action. On the way to the police station, accompanied by the constable, they met the local SHO (Station House Officer). After hearing everybody, including the constable who naturally gave a twisted and exaggerated version of the incident, SHO rudely told KG that he too was a party and not a neutral observer.

At the police station, the duty officer refused to listen to anyone except the police constable who had beaten the scooter driver. He lodged an FIR, charging the two young men and KG with assault on a police man on duty. All the three were put in the lock-up. For nearly an hour, the duty officer refused to listen to KG that he was a senior officer working in a reputed public sector company and not the type or take law in his own hand; was not allowed to contact anyone on phone either.

Meanwhile, his wife, a senior doctor in a government hospital, and father, a retired professor, were anxiously enquiring about him in the locality. After a lot of running about, they traced him in the local police station. When the SHO refused to release him in spite of any undertaking or signing of bond by him or his father or his wife, they (KG’s wife and father) returned home and she (KG’s wife) contacted me on phone.

The news was disturbing beyond words. I knew KG very intimately. He was a highly educated person with degree in engineering from IIT Delhi and MBA from Delhi University and a thorough gentleman. After assuring his wife that I would do whatever I could, I rushed to take the help of my next-door neighbour, an IPS officer working as DIG in a premier investigating agency. After hearing about the incident, he assured me that he would do his best. After about 15 or 20 minutes he came to me to tell me that he had talked to the SHO and was convinced that KG was indeed at fault because he had assaulted a police constable on duty. This was more shocking than junior police fellows throwing my friend in lock-up. I told him that SHO had misled him; KG, a highly educated person, a thorough gentleman, would be the last person to beat anyone, what to talk of a police constable. I requested him once again to use his contacts at higher levels.

Since I did not find that DIG’s response very assuring, I went out in search of help. A junior colleague in my parent department (income tax) took me to the house of the SP who had jurisdiction over the police to station. Fortunately, I too knew that SP but being Dushera Day he was on duty and could not be contacted. I apprised his wife, also a government servant and known me, of the incident and requested her to talk to her husband at the earliest. I tried some more contacts but without any success. I returned home at about 11 PM when my DIG neighbour informed me that after talking to a senior police officer, he had succeeded in getting KG out of the police lock-up on a personal bond of Rs. 5000. After 15-20 minutes KG rang up to thank me for getting out of the lock-up.

The next morning I got a telephone call from the SP that since we could not meet the previous night, he wanted to come to my place to ascertain the full facts. Immediately I called KG and asked him to come to my place. I requested the DIG neighbour also to come for discussion. After nearly 2 hours, at the meeting at my place KG described the entire incident to the SP and the DIG. To convey to the SP that KG was not the type who would indulge in any unlawful activity, I gave information about this family background, his educational qualification and official status. His father was also known to me for a long time. After hearing everything, SP assured him that he would see that no harm was caused to him. We profusely thanked him for taking personal interest and his assurance.

After a couple of days the SP rang up to say there was nothing to worry because no case had been registered against KG. KG felt relieved but somehow I was not convinced. To be doubly sure, I requested a senior IPS officer who was closely related to me and was posted as IG in a central paramilitary force to use his contacts to find the truth. He too was told informed that no case had been registered against KG. I was still not convinced. I requested another contact, one SP CID in Delhi police, to verify. He too informed me that no case ws pending against KG.

On February 18, 1992, exactly 4 months after the incident, KG received a summon to appear in a Tis Hazari court. Delhi police had filed a case charging him with assault on public servant, obstruction to duty, etc. The SHO had misled everyone, including his own SP. That was the beginning of a long legal battle. Between February 19, 1992 and February 12, 1993, he appeared five times in the court. On each date of appearance, the case was adjourned to some other date. My friend was completely shattered. He suffered mental agony, humiliation and harassment, besides suspending money on lawyer and time waiting for hearing in the court.

At that time, I was a Joint Secretary in the Government of India. In early 1992 I got a new Secretary who was Chief Secretary of Delhi just before coming to the Centre. I had known him for more than 15 years. In the mid-1970s we had worked together in the Planning Commission. One day I described my friend’s case to him and requested him to help my friend. He assured full help. As suggested by him, I brought a representation from KG, addressed to Delhi Police Commissioner. After talking to Police Commissioner on phone in my presence, he forwarded the representation. In his forwarding letter, he wrote that the representation had been brought to him by his Joint Secretary in whom he had full faith.

Nothing happened. KG continued to get summons appear before the court. When I gave the update to the Secretary, he suggested representation to the Lieutenant Governor. After talking to the Lieutenant Governor, he forwarded KG’s representation dated April 8, 1992. Again he wrote that the representation had been brought to him by his Joint Secretary in whom he had full faith. Within five days Lieutenant Governor personally acknowledge the receipt of the letter and stated that he was ‘having the matter looked into.’

Nothing happened. KG continued to get summons appear before the court. Sometime in early August, 1993 – by that time KG had appeared five times in the court and the next date was in the first week of September 1993 – I discussed the case with a Joint Secretary in my department. After hearing the full case, that Joint Secretary suggested that a representation should be sent to the Union Home Secretary, Mr. N. N.Vohra (who is presently Governor of Jammu-Kashmir). The representation dated August 12, 1993 was personally handed over by that Joint Secretary to the Home Secretary. In his representation to Home Secretary, as in his representation to Lt. Governor KG wrote that he had ‘taken a vow never to help anyone in trouble if there is remotest possibility of dealing with the police.’

At long last, our efforts succeeded. A couple of days before the next date of hearing in the court, the SHO and a police constable came to KG’s house to apologise for all the inconveniences caused to him and to request him to pardon them and withdraw his complaint. It transpired that after an enquiry ordered by him, the Home Secretary got the report that KG had been implicated in a false case. The table had turned. The government had ordered that a case should be filed against the guilty police officials. KG asked them to give him time to think over. When he told me about the development, I strongly advised him not to entertain any request from those rogues.

KG got intimation that the charges against him had been dropped and there was no need for him to appear before the court.

When I personally met Mr. Vohra to thank him, he was feeling sorry that Delhi police had harassed an innocent person. In fact, he thanked me for bringing that case to his notice.

We did not hear anything about the case thereafter. My impression is that nothing happened to those police fellows because my friend was never asked to appear as a witness against them. Quite probably, their seniors rescued them.

Neither my friend nor I can ever forget the more than two decade old episode. What is more disturbing is that the mindset of police has not changed. The police fellows continue to spend taxpayer’s money on image building and public relations and at the same time miss no opportunity to harass innocent persons and waste taxpayers’ money on fighting false cases in courts.

The million dollar question is: Will police ever be people-friendly? We have been waiting since independence. The wait may be indefinite. Meanwhile, for your own safety, maintain a safe distance from police.

Seriously, not a punch line: Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal is never tired of expressing his helplessness to improve the law and order situation in Delhi because he has no control over Delhi police. My advice to the Prime Minister is that he should hand over Delhi police to Arvind Kejriwal. Within a few months, if not within a few weeks, he would be requesting the Prime Minister to take Delhi police back.

Devendra Narain

May 15, 2016