Every police station in Mumbai has two constables working under the Mills Special Unit – a unit that not only lacks a clear portfolio, but is also largely unknown to most officers.
In fact, that such a unit existed in the modern police force came to the fore only after one of its constables was recently arrested for possessing the mephodrone drug.
At a time the city could use more hands on its police force, officers have not been able to answer why the unit still exists.
The mills special unit was formed by the British at the height of the Swadeshi and boycott movements. The unit was tasked with covertly gathering information about possible conflict zones. But the labour movement of the 1920s and the mill strike of 1982 shut down the city’s textile mills, which have now been replaced by swanky malls, office spaces and residential complexes.
The unit’s functions are different now, claimed sources in the department. The constables gather information about local politicians or are asked to snoop around about hotels and shops seeking permissions and licences, sources said.
But these are the duties of the police inspector in charge of community policing at every police station (see box).
Further, as the Mumbai crime branch’s intelligence-gathering unit and anti-terrorism cells (ATC) at every police station monitor activities in their jurisdiction, while the special branch gathers political information, employing constables with the mills unit is a waste of manpower.
“The mills special units were meant for intelligence collection in mills, but as their tasks are no longer relevant they can be used in other departments. The question is are they being used properly?” said K Subramanyam, former director general of police.
“The work assigned to the special branch overlaps with that of the mills special unit. It is better if these constables are put on different beats to strengthen local policing,” said a senior IPS officer, requesting anonymity.