Within a fortnight of its launch, the Punjab Police's dedicated phone line (181) for redressing public grievances has made deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal realise that rising crimes against women have to be dealt with on priority and cops need to change their behaviour drastically to restore people's faith in the police.
Of the 1,121 complaints received by the police on the helpline from August 22 to September 5, more than 270 (24%) pertained to crimes against women, including domestic violence, harassment for dowry, rape or attempt to rape, matrimonial dispute, stalking, physical assault, blackmail and sexual harassment.
About 80 woman complainants were not happy with the police action and also rued cops' misbehaviour.
Sukhbir, who heads the department of home affairs and justice, admitted that the police behaviour was at times indeed a cause of concern.
He, however, was quick to add that the dedicated phone number had helped to get direct feedback from the people.
"Since we have launched a campaign against drug peddlers, it is important to have information from people about where such elements operate. Already we have tracked and cracked many cases on the basis of complaints made on this number.
I have made it clear to district police chiefs that if they fail to improve their performance in three months and do not redress public grievances received on 181, they would be shunted out. To monitor the functioning of police officers, we have outsourced the entire operation of the dedicated phone number," said Sukhbir, adding that he was himself making calls at random to complainants to take their feedback on police action.
Citing an example, Sukhbir said he had dismissed sub-inspector Nishan Singh, posted at Tarn Taran, who had forcibly taken a laptop and a mobile phone from an elderly couple who had come from Hong Kong last month.
Additional director general of police (ADGP, law and order, and security) Dinkar Gupta, who has been deputed to oversee the project, said the new number would not overlap with the existing dedicated police number (100).
"Once the police get a complaint from any number, we will deal as per its category and priority, though 181 is for non-emergency police services. But if someone is being assaulted and makes a call at 181, the police have to rush and rescue the victim," the ADGP added.
Gupta said the information flow was already helping the police crack down on illegal activities. "We know that the cops' attitude has to change. They have to become more people-friendly to make this project a success," he added.
In the past fortnight, Patiala received the maximum number of complaints (101), followed by Ludhiana city (99), SAS Nagar (93) and Amritsar city (75).