Why India is not being able to police itself better
Collecting political intelligence on rivals and ensuring VIP protection are roles our political class equipped the police for, not terror attacks.
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The National Security Guard (NSG) was set up in 1984 to deal with "all facets of terrorism". However, the circumstances have been such that after the November 26, 2008 attacks in Mumbai, the force, despite its enhanced presence thanks to state hubs, has not seen any "action" in the over 700 terrorist incidents, which have claimed more than 500 lives. What does this say?
No matter what, it is the men in khakhi, our policemen, who, inevitably, are the first responders. In some cases, like the July 27 Gurdaspur terrorist attack and other low profile attacks in the hinterland, they wrap it up too. And to their assistance come forces like the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs). This is on account of the police's proximity, their presence on ground and the manner of attack by terrorists, which ensures situations are hardly prolonged for outside forces to move, arrive and tackle.
Are we then giving the police personnel what they need?
Remember Punjab police's SWAT team taking on terrorists without as much as a bullet-proof jacket or a helmet? Or policemen after the Udhampur attack checking the slain terrorists' bodies for booby traps without wearing bomb disposal gear? Or Mumbai police tackling automatic AK47 wielding terrorists with inadequate weapons and protection in the 26/11 attacks? This list is endless, actually.
States have seldom seen merit in investing in modern police forces. Collecting political intelligence on rivals, performing bandobast duties and ensuring VIP protection are the traditional roles our political class secretly envisaged and equipped the police for. The very fact that the Centre had to step in by means of a Modernisation of State Police Forces (MPFs) scheme launched in 1969-70 and continues to do so even today is proof enough.
To compound matters, contemporary data from the ministry of home affairs (MHA) doesn't quite reverse the trend.
Based on the sanctioned strength as on January 1 2014, India needs a total of 22,83,646 police officers in its 36 states and Union Territories (UTs). Against this, only 17,22,786 have been actually appointed, leading to a deficit of 5,60,860 or 25 per cent. The MHA says it has been advising the states to implement a time-bound programme and fill the vacancies yet not much has changed. Given that "police" and "public order" - under the seventh schedule of the Constitution - are state subjects, MHA admits, it can only do so much. The question then is whether something can be done or should we let status quo prevail.
While it may be poignant to note that administrative hubs like Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra have glaring numbers of vacancies to fill, it is outright disturbing to see a similar trend in frontline states like Jammu and Kashmir, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Punjab.
While many feel that given the present scenario, a re-thinking is in order, the question of whether or not policing must continue to remain the domain of the state governments was put paid to by the MHA, earlier this year, in a remarkable fashion.
Responding to a question by Lok Sabha MP from Bangalore Central, PC Mohan, over the preparedness of police forces with regards to weapons and equipment to tackle "terrorist and naxalite activities", MHA said it had no centralised data of weapons holdings of states!
The way things work is that the state governments prepare State Action Plan (SAP), which includes the weapons purchase component. SAP is sent to the MHA for scrutiny and subsequently, funds under the Modernisation of State Police Forces (MPF) are released. When it comes to weapons, MHA directly pays the ordinance factories for their manufacture.
Before concluding, the MHA response tersely noted, "Equipment to be procured under the MPF depend on the priorities of the state government."
Back then to square one, aren't we?