Who will protect the protectors?

LINE OF DUTY: SEVERAL DELHI POLICEMEN HAVE LOST THEIR LIVES IN RECENT YEARS

Who will protect the protectors?

Constable Manna Ram, 25, died after a motorist he had tried to stop ran his car into him, dragging him several metres on a flyover in west Delhi. Police say it was a clear case of road rage.

Manna Ram was the eleventh traffic policeman to be killed after being hit by speeding vehicles while on duty in the last five years. “Traffic police officers often face abusive behaviour and life threatening situations. Like Manna Ram’s incident, in many cases, errant drivers deliberately flout traffic rules and risk the life of officers on duty,” says Bhim Sain Bassi, Delhi Police Commissioner.

Similar incidents of road rage are routine on the capital’s roads with people losing their lives over petty issues. When it comes to policemen, two each were killed during routine traffic duty in 2010, 2011 and 2012, while the figure went up in 2013 when three officers were mowed down.

“Such incidents show the kind of attitude that people have not only towards the law, but also towards their own safety as well as of others,” adds Muktesh Chander, Special Commissioner of Police (Traffic).

Raman Kumar, the driver involved in Manna Ram’s death is accused of deliberately causing the accident as there was a heated argument between the two men. Raman was told to take a service road due to a no-entry rule, but he broke a barricade and went straight on to the flyover. In his attempt to stop Raman, Manna

Ram jumped on the car, holding on to the windshield wipers. But Raman refused to slow down. The constable was flung to the ground and came under the wheels. He was not carrying any firearm, and not all policemen are provided with motorcycles to chase rule-breaking drivers.

“Traffic policemen don’t carry weapons, which I feel needs to be reviewed following Manna Ram’s death. Had he been armed, the driver may not have decided to flee from the spot and even if he did, Manna Ram could have shot at the car’s tyres to deflate them. I believe that like other units of the force, traffic police should also be armed to tackle law and order situations,” says Zarine Khan who has worked as a volunteer with NGO Safer Roads Foundation.

Firepower

Delhi Police use a range of weapons: AK-47, Pistol Auto 9mm 1A, INSAS rifle, FN FAL, Sterling sub-machine gun, Heckler and Koch MP5, and Glock. But most of the state-of-art equipment is only provided to the commandoes. The unit was formed in 2009 after the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai.

Apart from traffic policemen, many officers have died while posted with police control room (PCR) vans, at pickets and on  patrolling duties. A number of officers were also attacked by criminals to avoid arrest during raids. Among them was Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma posted with the Special Cell. He  was killed during the Batla House encounter in September 2008.

Sharma had sustained bullet injuries in the abdomen, thighs and right arm. He was not wearing the bulletproof armour, which is available with the Special Cell.
In an incident in December 2013, a Delhi Police constable on deputation with the State Excise Department team was beaten to death while another received injuries after they were attacked by a gang of illicit liquor suppliers in south Delhi.

In the recent past, several incidents have also been reported where policemen were beaten up, uniforms torn and official vehicles gutted when they went to attend PCR calls.

“We have noticed that criminals are not afraid of opening fire and beating up policemen if they feel that they can escape being apprehended. Easy availability of country-made pistols in north India has also proved to be helpful to these criminals,” says Ashok Chand, Additional Commissioner of Police (Crime).

Police have also identified criminals from Haryana’s Mewat region as one of the big threats to policemen. These gangs carry out crimes, including cattle theft,  on the outskirts of the capital and are not afraid to face police. If chased, they throw stones and even carcasses at the police teams.

During a special drive last year, a truck driver had tried to run over several policemen, including then Joint Commissioner of Police (Traffic) Satyendra Garg, when they signalled the vehicle to stop near DND Flyway. Garg along with Deputy Commissioner of Police (South-Traffic) Prem Nath were standing in front of the vehicle questioning its unauthorised entry before the scheduled time of 9.30 pm. All of a sudden, the driver accelerated and nearly knocked down the policemen.

In a similar incident, the Special Commissioner of Police (Traffic) was also almost run over by a traffic violator when he asked the offending vehicle to stop in 1998. Though Muktesh Chander’s life was spared, he sustained injuries in his hand.

“I followed the vehicle and ensured that the driver was arrested. Most of the motorists in the capital don’t respect traffic rules due to which it becomes very difficult for the traffic police to do their work. They don’t realise that they might end up losing their life or killing someone on the road,” Chander says.

Road safety experts highlight a dangerous a problem that traffic policemen face: the  most they can do is challan errant drivers. The drivers can also get away as there are hardly any CCTV cameras installed on most roads.

“Traffic police may chase a vehicle for violating rules, but the driver manages to get away by paying a fine. On the other hand, majority of the traffic violators are not chased and only their vehicle’s registration number is noted for prosecution through court. It only makes the motorist a threat to others on the road,” says Piyush Tewari, founder of NGO Save Life Foundation, adding strict measures must be introduced to keep drivers in check.

There is some hope for Delhi cops now with Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s assurance on modernising the force. Currently, police have been asked to go through available CCTV footage to prosecute those flouting traffic rules so that incidents like Manna Ram’s death are not allowed to be repeated.

Training programmes are also being organised at the police training colleges in the city to improve the quality of checking at pickets. Short films have been produced showing correct practices to be followed at barricades.

In 2013, the Delhi Police Martyrs’ Fund was created to provide immediate monetary assistance of Rs 10 lakh and Rs 20 lakh to the family of police personnel who sacrifice their life while performing government duties and death involving gallantry in the line of duty caused directly by external violence, respectively. Five families availed the scheme in 2013, and Manna Ram’s family in Rajasthan’s Nagaur district is expected to get the financial help soon.

Manna Ram was the sole breadwinner for his family of six. He is survived by his wife and infant son, parents and a sister. Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung has accepted a request made on behalf of Delhi Police to increase the compensation for his family to Rs 1 crore.

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