The West Bengal government is working on a new law that will prescribe strong penal measures against people arrested for vandalism and arson amid incidents of increasing attacks on policemen in the state, senior officials have said.
Records indicate that in the recent years one or more policemen were attacked or heckled almost every month by leaders and supporters of political parties and even common citizens, who simply refused to follow the law.
The Trinamool government wants to bring the new legislation in force apprehending that these incidents may affect the morale of the police force and lead to severe consequences, officials said.
It is evident from these incidents that law enforcers in Bengal are dangerously exposed to sporadic bouts of lawlessness.
Sub-inspector Tapas Chowdhury was shot dead by a ‘Trinamool supporter’ during a college election in February 2013, Alipore police station was attacked by local ‘slum-dwellers’ forcing policemen to hide under tables in November 2014 and a mob set Kaliachak police station in Malda on fire in January 2016.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee said that tough laws would be enforced immediately after the Ausgram police station in Burdwan district was vandalised and set on fire last month.
The proposed law is going be a new avatar of the Prevention of Damage of Public Property Act that was brought into force across India in 1984. It prescribed an imprisonment of up to 10 years and a fine for a serious offence in addition to no bail on personal bond. There are also sections in the Indian Penal Code relating to assault on public servants.
“Every act of vandalism, including an attack on policemen and police stations, will be covered under the new law,” director general of state police Surajit Kar Purakayastha said.
State officials now said that they are seeking legal opinion on more stringent provisions such as longer jail term and, more significantly, no bail for certain crimes.
Although the proposed state law will aim at safeguarding ‘public property,’ officials said it is being prepared principally in view of the increasing attacks on policemen and police property, a rather alarming trend for a state that has no terror-inflicted zone and is governed by a party that enjoys an absolute majority.
Critics, however, said that attacks on the police point at bad governance and new laws alone cannot change the situation. Retired Kolkata Police commissioner Tushar Talukdar said he does not blame political parties for the attacks on the police.
“Their characters will always be the same. IPS officers who began their career by taking oath in the name of the Constitution are failing to lead their men and set examples. They are more concerned about their career,” Talukdar told HT.
“Going by the recent incidents, all I can say is that a police force cannot be at the mercy of hooligans. And, if policemen stoop before politicians, people will not take them seriously,” he added.
Retired deputy commissioner Samir Ganguly, who headed the investigation into the Bowbazar bomb blast case in 1993, blamed political parties for the situation.
“It started during the Left regime. If people see a Trinamool leader showing utter disregard for the uniform, they will automatically feel provoked to go one step ahead,” Ganguly said. “The results are evident,” he added.
Noted lawyer and Congress leader Arunava Ghosh said the government may misuse the law.
“I have a strong feeling that in the name of restoring order the government will introduce laws that will violate human rights and empower the police to keep anyone in custody without trial,” Ghosh said.