The Delhi Police have banned television debates conducted in public, arguing that they had the ‘potential to trigger daily mini riots’ in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections.
A policeman stands guard at a barricade to stop protesters, near India Gate in New Delhi. Reuters
According to the police, they had exercised a law enforcement agency’s basic power of allowing, or disallowing, public meetings from taking place in the capital.
“Past experience has shown that such debates inevitably heat up and get violent with open confrontations between two or more opposing groups towards the end,” said a senior police officer.
“Besides, we already have various duties that range from checking the smuggling of free liquor for voters to keeping an eye on musclemen being used to intimidate the public in the run-up to the elections and can’t spare manpower for such programmes every day,” the officer added.
According to senior police officials, the Delhi Police gets at least three to four requests from television channels across the linguistic spectrum to hold public debates at venues such as schools, public parks and even community halls on a daily basis.
Quoting official estimates, police sources said such events usually required the deployment of close to half the total manpower of the local police station.
In cases of a larger gathering, more personnel need to be deployed, thus throwing local policing out of gear.
“Its not like we’re trying to curb free speech or anything — why don’t these channels book large venues such as stadiums for weekly programs instead,” said another officer.
“In any case, is Delhi willing to give up the security of its streets for daily political stunts like these?” he also asked.
An official from the Election Commission said that allowing or disallowing such programmes from taking place was a matter that finally rested with the capital’s authorities.
“We have given permission to four such programmes recently but, having said so, it is still mandatory for the police and civic authorities to give clearance and such matters are left to their discretion,” the official said.
(With inputs from Neelam Pandey)