In the debates triggered by the gang rape of a pub escort in Gurgaon last fortnight, solutions got lost in the shrillness of who was to be blamed for this horrific crime. Was it the urban-rural cultural clash? Or a law that merely asks employers to provide a night-drop to women who work late? Or was it a plain policing failure?
Gurgaon, like other NCR towns, is a no-cop land. You travel long stretches without spotting a policeman or a patrol vehicle. Calling for help is futile because cops don't turn up on time. If it is Noida, you may not even get through the police emergency number. Only last week, the phone lines didn't work for 24 hours because the bills were not paid. No wonder, residents here have zero confidence in the law enforcers.
Crime rates do not depend merely on the intensity of physical vigil but absence of police, as in the case of Gurgaon, Noida and even large parts of Delhi, does embolden those with a criminal streak. Be it speeding monsters responsible for road fatalities at night, or potential muggers or rapists lurking in the dark alleys, the fear of getting caught generally works as a psychological deterrent.
Born and raised in Delhi, I could say I never felt as safe on the bylanes of Connaught Place as on those 12 days when the capital hosted Commonwealth Games in 2010. The entire police force was out patrolling the streets and crime came down by 24%. Clearly, we need more boots on the ground.
But in NCR towns, the numbers of police personnel remain almost static even though the populations they are supposed to protect have grown as much as by 50% in the last decade. So, the police to population ratios of 1:571 in Gurgaon and 1:667 in Noida are far worse than the United Nations recommendation of 1:450. There are just 45 vans to patrol 1,183 sq kms of Gurgaon. Out of the 70 police control room vans in Noida, 40 are hired vehicles run by private drivers who are often more interested in siphoning fuel than policing.
Although Gurgaon has introduced a Commissionerate system of policing on the lines of metropolitan police that all big cities follow, and started sourcing its senior officers from the pool of the elite Indian Police Service, its junior officers and constabulary are still the local recruits. Even such partial modernisation eludes Noida and Ghaziabad where local police report to the political bosses in Lucknow. Though senior cops get frequently transferred, it rarely happens on account of bad policing.
Surely it is not lack of funds that is coming in the way of modernisation of police. Gurgaon contributes 47% of the total revenue generated in Haryana and has over R 5,000 crore, collected as External Development Charges from property owners and developers, lying unused in government coffers. Noida is equally cash-rich, earning 25% of Uttar Pradesh's total revenue.
Talking of social divides, even cops often suffer from the same limitations. Everybody talks about sensitisation programmes but there has not been a single workshop or training sessions yet. Most cops are not even trained to take down complaints properly. There is no institutional check yet on rampant corruption that further blunts whatever little efficiency even such ragtag forces could offer.
Yet, blame games will not make the city any safer. It is time to get real. Let us address the present limitations of our cops, and let the demand for sweeping reforms come from within the force itself.