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Forcing our hand

It may seem impetuous for Mumbai’s journalists to demand a CBI inquiry within a week into crime reporter Jyotirmoy Dey’s murder, but this is only symptomatic of the low trust that the state government and Mumbai Police command today. Ayaz Memon writes.

india Updated: Nov 20, 2011 11:50 IST
Ayaz Memon

It may seem impetuous for Mumbai’s journalists to demand a CBI inquiry within a week into crime reporter Jyotirmoy Dey’s murder, but this is only symptomatic of the low trust that the state government and Mumbai Police command today. Such sentiment is not restricted to just members of the fourth estate but sweeps the citizenry and judiciary as well.

Over the last week as journalists demanded rapid action, police and politicians scrambled to find answers and theories ranged from gangsters to oil, quarrying and sandalwood mafias. Chillingly, these theories also included the possibility that policemen were involved in Dey’s death.

Without evidence it would be unfair to assign any diabolical angle to the murder. But attention has veered to the police-criminal nexus. Juxtaposed with the growing ineptitude of the police, this has led to a rise in despairing anger.

In days gone by, the Mumbai Police was compared to Scotland Yard; today such comparison would only invite derision. Over the past two decades, the situation has been exacerbated by the tug-of-war between coalition partners who have formed successive state governments.

In this unseemly power play top policemen have become political appointees, often for such a short tenure as to be totally ineffective. The last police commissioner to have got a three-year term was Julio Ribeiro almost three decades ago (1982-85); nowadays, there is a scramble to get even six-eight months.

This has led to unhealthy competition among senior policemen for the top job to the extent that stories of officers paying huge sums to get high postings are now mundane. Internecine warfare is an open secret, reducing a once proud and elite force to shambles.

The seriousness of the problem becomes evident during a crisis, like the 26/11 terror attacks when Mumbai’s police was exposed as being unprepared, inefficient and confused. Indeed, it was the bravery of a few officers and constabulary which led to Ajmal Kasab being taken alive.

The rest of the work was done by commandos.

The Mumbai Police are burdened not just by the corrupt black sheep and rampant factionalism, but also by the way its work has been haphazardly divided into departments, often at loggerheads with each other. The crime branch and the Anti-Terrorism Squad, for instance, often investigate the same crimes and come up with opposite results.

Over and again, courts have found fault with investigation, skills and the accused — who were paraded as being guilty by a media-happy police — have been let off.

On a broader scale, the Justice VS Malimath committee on reforms to the criminal justice system, which submitted its report in 2003, is still awaiting implementation. It recommends, for instance, that the investigation and law and order wings of the police be separated, a plea reiterated often by retired police officers who served before rot set into the system.

Recently, a controversy broke out over police stations getting a government order which stopped them from recording calls from politicians to influence cases.

Surprisingly, the police followed this in spite of it going against the highest principles of ‘Rule of Law’. It was only after public protests that what was clearly an illegal order was recalled.

The implication is obvious: that politicians be allowed the run of the investigation system and that such interference be hidden from the public. What recourse does the public have in the face of such blatant misuse of the system? Malimath recommends that the police should be accountable only to ‘Rule of Law’.

Ideal as that sounds, in the current situation it is difficult to see how it can be enforced.

Politics and money are a lethal combination and has struck a death knell — almost — for Mumbai’s law and order situation, now as good or poor as the much derided ‘badlands’ of UP and Bihar. Unfortunately, politicians have tended to obfuscate the problem by burying their heads in the sand or focusing on puerile issues.

Recently deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar, illogically chose to make raising the age limit for alcohol consumption to 25 as his major agenda. Not too long back, another preachy politician, home minister RR Patil, squandered time and state money in getting dance bars shut. Patil was also to say (in)famously after the 26/11 horror that “in big cities small things happen’’.

He lost his job for that, but incredibly is back in the same chair again.

In the Dey murder case, Patil has vowed to bring the culprits to book soon, police commissioner Arup Patnaik has flexed his muscles saying that the murderers cannot get away while beleaguered chief minister Prithviraj Chavan has clucked, clucked in agreement with both: all of which suggests that the administration is clueless as yet.

Perhaps the demand for a CBI inquiry is not so impetuous after all.

(Ayaz Memon is a journalist based in Mumbai. The views expressed by the author are personal)