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The Rediff Special/ Aditi Phadnis in Patna
Criminals find their match in new Bihar
May 29, 2007
When a crime is committed in Bihar, the punishment follows. But, this was not always the case. Earlier, if it was a criminal "patronised" by the chief minister or his family, a telephone call was all it would take to get him out of the lock-up. Even a call from someone purporting to be from the CM's family would do.
Times have changed. Poornamasi Ram, a prominent Dalit legislator from the ruling Janata Dal (United)-Bharatiya Janata Party government, was jailed for trying to influence voting in a municipal election last week.
"He raved and ranted, but he was arrested because he broke the law," said Inspector General of Police Anil Sinha. "We are working on some other cases. Some of them are from the ruling party. If we find evidence, they too will be behind bars," added Sinha ominously.
Both the committing of crime and the punishment awarded is a closely watched and a publicly debated event in Bihar. The statistics show some of the picture. In January 2006, 249 murders took place in Bihar. This number was down to 188 in January 2007.
The number of dacoities was 128 in January last year. It is down to 71 in January this year. The most significant decline has been in cases of kidnapping for ransom � 29 cases were registered in January 2006, compared to 7 in January 2007.
But there are also high-profile cases � the killing of Prof Papiya Ghose, an indomitable, independent single professional woman, by land sharks in her own home less than six months ago; the murder of a contractor by a police recruit on Patna's prestigious Boring Road at 5 am (the contractor was beheaded, his head taken elsewhere and burnt and the body left on the road. The recruit has confessed and is in jail); and the tragic case of Sadhna Srivastava, the judicial officer of impeccable personal integrity who was a victim of a home invasion by men purporting to be Central Bureau of Investigation officers.
Crime is still very visible in Bihar, but Sinha says fighting it is a little easier now. Recruitments for the police force started 18 months ago are coming to fruition � Bihar has a 65,000 strong police force and is likely to get bigger with a new women's battalion being raised and the India Reserve Battalion being set up. Training is intense. New barracks for policemen and their families, and arms and communication systems, are being bought.
Rates of conviction are high. And there is some out-of-the-box thinking on some generic problems of policing. There is a new move on kidnapping for ransom. Superintendents of police in all districts have been told that when a kidnapping for ransom case is brought to conviction, the state must plead for not just a long sentence but also a heavy fine for the crime that must be given to the family of the victim. "No longer is kidnapping for ransom carried out by organised gangs � it is usually family, friends or rivals who do it. If we show that crime does not pay by imposing a heavy fine on the family of the criminal, it will be a big deterrent," Sinha says.
The kidnapping of a doctor in Rohtas district led to his family paying a ransom, but the doctor and the ransom money was recovered by the police that brought the case to conviction.
The accused, a management student from Ranchi, was asked by the judge to pay a fine of Rs 14 lakh in addition to a jail term. "With the lure of quick money gone, kidnapping will cease to be an industry," Sinha says, "I believe this is the pan-India answer to kidnapping for ransom."
To be continued
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