If an ordinary person is involved in a crime, he is instantaneously booked by the police, but if a police officer is involved, he is merely suspended or dismissed, even though there is a case for criminal prosecution.
There could hardly be a stronger case for action than the sensational Vijay Palande-Simran Sood one. Inspector Sanjay Shinde, a relative of Palande's, has been found to have assisted Palande, an accused in the killing of actor Anuj Tikku's father Arunkumar Tikku and the disappearance of wannabe film producer Karan Kakkad, at every step.
When, in the first fortnight of March, Palande and Sood were called in by the Amboli police to inquire about Kakkad's disappearance, Shinde allegedly called the police station and asked the officers there to "go slow". Nearly a month later, Shinde's car was found in the parking lot at Oberoi Springs, Amboli, the housing society in which Arunkumar Tikku was killed, and his trousers were inside the car. Palande's aides who had murdered Tikku were apparently going to use the vehicle to dump the body somewhere.
Palande even escaped from police custody on Shinde's watch: the inspector did nothing when the accused, being brought to Mumbai from Satara, walked out of the police vehicle at a traffic signal in Andheri.
And yet, Shinde has been suspended, as has been the constable Amol Deshpande, but not charged. Stockbroker Gautam Vora, who met Palande at Marine Lines when he was on the run and took him to a Colaba hotel, has been booked for allegedly aiding Palande's escape bid. Then why not Shinde? Why just call him "negligent," as an internal police inquiry apparently has?
Reports suggest Shinde had helped Palande even before the two recent cases came to light. In September 2011, he allegedly protected five of Palande's aides who had been caught when they were trying to barge into a flat in Juhu in order to usurp the property. He allegedly told the Juhu police to let the five men off as they were his "informants".
This apparently necessary association with informers has always been offered as the prime argument against prosecution of police officers. Most of the encounter specialists who were found to have been targeting members of a specific gang were suspended, and not charged, because they reportedly needed to be in touch with certain elements in order to get information about gangland activities.
This argument has never had much going for it, but it has worked as a shield because prosecution would bring the conduct of the entire police department under public scrutiny, and the trial and punishment, if any, would bring embarrassment to the force.
The 'poorly-paid policeman' is another argument that must be discarded and discredited immediately, for a hard life does not justify criminal acts. A significant percentage of the Indian population lives in abject poverty. They haven't all taken to crime, have they?
What makes Shinde's case even more serious is that his record from 1998 is dubious. He shot a fellow police officer in a bar that year, and two years later, was allegedly involved in the Milton kidnapping case. In February 2000, gangster Abu Salem's aides had kidnapped the managing director of Milton Plastics from Malabar Hill; the police found out that Shinde was in touch with Salem all through the kidnapping drama.
Mumbai police commissioner Arup Patnaik is apparently keen that the image of the police force be cleaned up in the wake of the Palande case. One way of doing it would be to charge the policemen involved in the matter. That will not embarrass the force but will help with its cleansing.