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February 16, 1998


Issues '98/K Mohandas

'The police can only improve if the political structure changes'

The police forces in various states and their auxiliaries at the Centre like the Central Bureau of Investigation, Intelligence Bureau, etc, cannot be viewed in isolation. It is a part of the central government system. Though the general tendency is to criticise the police for various acts omission and commission, including corruption, that is only because the police are the closest to the people. The other agencies like the administrative services are rather faceless and removed from day-to-day contact with the general public.

The main criticism against the police is its corruption, coupled with its inefficiency in dealing with crime, and insurgency in the border states. But the bureaucrats and politicians who control the police are equally responsible for this. For example, when something like the recent Bihar carnage occurs, the media highlights only police inefficiency, whereas the real reason may be something else. A retired IAS officer recently wrote that criminalisation of politics and politicisation of crime are the present trends. Politicians protect dadas (ruffians) from the police.

A global survey on corruption has given India a rank within the top ten. Among the peninsular states, Tamil Nadu ranks first. The general public's perception is that nothing moves without palms being greased. This is relevant not only to the police but to all the departments. Corruption is eating into the vitals of the nation and the society.

Indira Gandhi had said, 'Corruption is a universal phenomenon.' The adverse effect of a serious disease is not mitigated because of its universality. In fact, it is exactly why vigorous steps should be taken to control it, especially in a poor and developing country like India. It is easy to say that it is necessary to remove this to improve things, etc. But unless the entire political structure changes, you can't expect the police department to improve.

Police officers, in particular, and bureaucrats, in general, look after their own interests rather than that of the nation. They are only bothered about their career, posting, etc, and even extensions (on reaching superannuation). Now we see extension after extension being given to senior officers, which is why I prefer to call this an extended government instead of a caretaker government. Sometimes I wonder why we don't allow this government to be extended permanently so that we save a few thousand million rupees on elections.

If at all there is to be any reform, it has to be made at the top. Things were not as bad when I joined the service in 1957. Then nobody had heard of a criminal-bureaucrats-police-businessman nexus. Politicisation of the police department was much less then. It started gradually. The reason was that everybody wanted money, not small amounts, but on large amounts; particularly politicians who ran parties and elections. Nobody gives money for nothing.

A person gives money and asks for the transfer of a superintendent of police from here, the transfer of that collector from there, or the suspension of a third person. The politicians, out of sheer necessity and probably because of their own greed, accept the money. I am referring to politicians of all hues and colour. All want money. Without money, you can't run elections, hold propaganda meetings, administer the party.

When I was the assistant superintendent of Tuticorin in 1962, I had to tackle quite a lot of rowdies. Behind the rowdies were some important political parties. There was a big uproar and pressure from all the political parties for my transfer when the elections neared. Do you know why? Because I tackled the rowdies. But I couldn't care less.

Kamaraj was the then chief minister. He came to Tuticorin to address a pre-election meeting and all the parties pressurised him for my transfer. He called me to the guest house at 10 in the night. I thought it was the end of my tenure in Tuticorin. He asked me to sit down, thought for a while, and then took out a packet of cigarettes from his pocket. He lit one and offered me one! I was shocked. The chief minister offering a cigarette to a bachcha ASP!

Then he said, 'Look here, young man! I know you are a good officer. But you are going very fast'. That's it. There was no transfer, nothing. See the way he handled the issue. I was all admiration for the man. I am telling you this is to highlight the then condition.

Slowly the deterioration started. I think from 1967 onwards. I don't want to mention the party's name. You can check up who was in power in 1967. It was a gradual erosion. You see, once the evil appears in an area, everybody takes it up. The nexus began.

I will give you another example. I was the superintendent of police of a district and we had a very good sub inspector in one station. Naturally the bad fellows did not like him there because he was strict and honest. So they complained to the then home minister. The home minister asked me to transfer him, which I refused as he was one of my best subinspectors. The minister was upset and angry. Anyway, the sub inspector was not disturbed. But two months later, I was transferred!

If the police department is to be improved, the whole government system has to be improved. It required a lot of courage to swim against a corrupt system. It depends on your character, your sense of integrity, and service. I agree nobody is perfect. Strict and honest officers suffer through such transfers, which create a lot of difficulties for an officer. A man of integrity cannot tolerate association with the undesirable elements and the misuse of office in their favour.

I don't give a good certificate to any politician. It is difficult to work in such situations where you see 90 out of 100 officers doing dada business and prospering; making money and being in the good books of the powers that be; being prominent in social life; etc. The other honest 10 may wonder: 'Why should we live like this?' Gradually they also join them. That is how it happens.

Political neutrality in the services and objectivity in administrative decisions are becoming things of the past, the police included. Transfers of government servants to a lucrative station, promotion to higher posts, and extensions are made on political considerations, not to mention the caste factor.

I will be optimistic about the police force or any other government department if I am optimistic about India. What you see around you only reflects society. Wherever the administration has been politicised, the police are at the wrong end of the gun.

I would not blame the politicians entirely. Some officers willingly or unwillingly co-operate, others follow suit for obvious reasons. If at all any rectification has to be attempted, it must start from the top of the police hierarchy, as well as the political masters.

A good example I can give is that of sandalwood smuggler Veerappan. Do you think the state police, the central police, including the Border Security Force can't catch him? It only shows that he is being supported by politicians and some officials in the forest and police departments. Why? A lot of money is there in sandalwood. Now, there is no talk about him because the money goes for the election.

I was in the CBI for some time on deputation. Earlier, it was an elite force with people of integrity in it. Those were days of zero interference. Things started changing with the advent of the Emergency. That was the landmark. I was in the CBI for six months during the Emergency. I have heard about cases registered against innocent officers and the CBI arresting them. It was never done till then.

K Mohandas, former director general of police, Tamil Nadu, spoke to Shobha Warrier.

Issues '98

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