No pressure, police has a free hand, says DGP Punjab
Militant outfit Khalistan Zinadbad Force, behind drone deliveries in Punjab, was helped by jihadi outfits across the border. This trend is sinister and worrisome says Dinkar GuptaUpdated: Jan 01, 2020 12:52 IST
Normalcy in Punjab is uncannily fragile. Terror modules, cross-border drug and arms inflow and undercurrents to foment radicalism have periodically convulsed the border state. No wonder, these key security challenges figure high in the priorities that director general of police Dinkar Gupta, 55, has set for his 80,000-strong force. The Patiala-born 1987-batch IPS officer, who took over the top job in February last year, brings with him a wealth of experience and expertise in combating terrorism in Punjab since1988 when he was first posted in then hotspot of Amritsar. His was a baptism by fire. Known as a clear-headed and compassionate cop, Gupta spoke to Executive Editor Ramesh Vinayak on a range of issues at his residence in Chandigarh. Edited excerpts:
How do you reflect on the law and order landscape in Punjab?
We have been fortunate that 2019 has gone without any terror crime. Otherwise, there has been a worrisome increase in terror incidents since the 2015 ‘fidayeen’ ( suicide) attack on the Dinanagar police station. Since then, the state has seen about 18 terror incidents, including the Pathankot air base attack, targeted killings of RSS and Shiv Sena activists. In that sense, the last five years have been very challenging on national security front.
What challenges you foresee in 2020?
The last year was eventful in many ways — abrogation of the Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, the Citizenship Amendment Act, the Ayodhya verdict, and the opening of the Kartarpur corridor. All this may impact the security imperatives in Punjab that has a 554-km long border with Pakistan. It is difficult to say what the future holds for us, but when you are dealing with a neighbour like Pakistan, there will be attempts to foment trouble in Punjab. So, we have to be always vigilant.
How serious is the Referendum 2020 campaign spearheaded by the Sikhs for Justice?
They are upping the ante. The campaign started a few years ago and now has the end date this year. The registration for the so-called referendum starts in January while online polling is scheduled to be held in November. They had meetings in various gurdwaras in the UK, the US and Canada. So, they are intensifying their campaign.
The SFJ tirade, however, has no resonance in Punjab. Some see it as a bogey created by security agencies.
The good part is that in Punjab, each single political party across the spectrum, be it moderate or even radical fringe, is on record opposed to i.t It is a movement spearheaded by people who are no longer Indians. How can people who have adopted citizenship of other countries have a referendum on Punjab? It has no takers here. SFJ has been banned by the government of India and its chief protagonist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun has been declared proclaimed offender in a few cases. The only worrying part is that they are beguiling and trying to provoke the youth to commit violence which is not a good sign. It vitiates the peace.
Certain sections had apprehensions over the real intent of Pakistan behind its move on the Kartarpur corridor. How have things played out since its opening six weeks ago?
Opening of the Katrapur corridor was the desire of every Punjabi whether in India or abroad. But, of course, it is fraught with security challenges .We have 1,200 to 1,400 people crossing the passage daily. It involves a lot of interaction on the other side of the border. We will have to remain on guard.
The last year also revealed, for the first time, the use of drones from Pakistan to drop arms into Punjab. How serious is the threat?
We had inputs saying that various terrorist outfits operating on the border are trying to acquire this capacity (drones). However, it became a certainty on August 12 when we found evidence of a drone coming in and dropping a 10 kg weapon payload. The drone was five and a half feet in diameter. It came pretty deep and fell one and a half km inside the Indian territory.
In September, we arrested a couple of people who had received the drone consignment. It included nine hand grenades, AK-47 rifles, pistols, communication devices and, fake Indian currency. To date, we have evidence of eight or nine successful sorties made by more than one drones. Militant outfit Khalistan Zinadbad Force was behind these drone deliveries. They didn’t have the capacity on their own. They were helped by jihadi outfits across the border. This trend is sinister and worrisome.
How are security agencies dealing with the drone threat?
We are working very closely with the central agencies and ramping up our technology to deal with this challenge.
The gangsters are back in the focus. What feeds the sub culture of gangs in Punjab?
Until a decade ago, we had hardly had any gangsters. It was known to exist in Haryana and UP. In Punjab, the gang culture took roots a few years ago and got pretty bad. But, since January 2017, we got good successes. About 2300 gangsters have been arrested and 10 neutralised. We have carried out big operations in Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand to track A-category gangsters. Only five or six of top gangsters are still at large. We recently brought back a notorious gangster Sukhpreet Singh Buddha from Armenia. Punjab always had the gun culture. Then there is easy money. Once anyone takes to the gangs, it is difficult to come out. The brainwashing and networking happens in the prisons.
Does the state need the Punjab Control of Organised Crime Act (PCOCA) which was mooted a couple of years ago ?
It is very much required. Delhi has it. Haryana wants to have it, and so is Punjab. There is a sub-committee looking into. Recently I requested the chief minister to expedite the legislation. About 1,000 mobile phones are recovered from the state jails every year. Under the Prisons Act, having a mobile phone on an inmate is an offence punishable by a fine of Rs 50 or a six-month imprisonment which he is already undergoing any way. So, inside the jail, there is no fear of being caught with a mobile phone.
There are concerns over PCOCA’s misuse.
Well, laws can always be misused in bad hands. You can surely have safe guards.
Allegations of political patronage of gangsters are flying thick and fast .Is there any substance to this?
This has been talked about for a long time. I have been with the intelligence earlier and DGP since February this year. We have not come across even a single instance of an evidence-backed case of political patronage or nexus. The A-category gangsters do get support sometimes by force or because of the fear factor. The gangsters’ families will always go to elected representatives or those in power for help. But chief minister and everyone in the government is pretty clear. The police have a free hand.
Punjab’s prisons seem to have turned into nerve-centre of crime syndicates.
Our prisons do remain a problem area. Inside the jails, we know that criminals link up, network and radicalise. This is huge challenge. The state government is ramping up the prison capacities and leveraging technology. A new jail is coming up in Goindwal while a women prison has been set up . Four companies of paramilitaries have just been deployed in a few jails on access control. We are also looking at full body scanners at prisons. The prisons are understaffed. The recruitments are on. Jails are one of four components of the criminal justice system but the system is creaking actually.
How much ground has been covered in the battle against drug menace?
We have done a pretty decent job on supply reduction though it is a huge problem. Over 33,000 drug cases have been registered since March 2017 and over 40,000 people arrested. But, there is a lot to be done on the demand side which includes de-addiction and rehabilitation. A recent study showed that Punjab has almost 12 lakh drug users needing treatment. Pulling out them out of drug trap is a humongous task. It is easy to blame the government. The society too has to step in.
There is perception that the big fish in drug trade are beyond the police reach?
The big fish are no longer carrying drug themselves. About 90 drug addicts are also drug peddlers. Generally, we recover small or medium quantities. Only the commercial seizure of 250 grams attracts stringent provisions of NDPS Act. Out of 32,000 FIRs that Punjab police registers on drug cases in a year, only 3,000 are for commercial quantity. Those caught with small quantity get bailed out in three to four weeks. So, we are catching the same people over and over again. That clogs up the criminal justice system. Drug is a thriving business and there is a lot of money involved as evident from 532-kg heroin seizure from a rock salt container at Attari this year. We got the case transferred to NIA.. We are posting directly recruited IPS officers in border areas as was done during the terrorism days. The Narcotics Control Bureau will now have an IG-rank officer in Amritsar.
How serious is the cyber radicalisation?
The social media has been the game changer on security threats. Encrypted forms of communication pose a challenge. In last four years, 60% of 40 terror modules busted in Punjab were recruited and radicalised online. That includes the most sinister module involved in targeted killings. Now with online radicalization happening at a high pace, footsoldiers are available.
Some ministers accuse the police of doing Akalis’ bidding while Akalis warn the cops against false cases. How do you withstand such political pressures?
I don’ see that as a serious issue. The police, unlike the army, work very much in the society. We have much exposure to politicians, so those kind of allegations will always be there. We have a large force. There will be aberrations. There will be mistakes both bonafide and malafide. So those kind of charges will keep on flying for various reasons. Nobody is asking me to let go of a terrorist or a gangster or a criminal or a drug supplier.