Delhi protest: A beaten police force

Delhi Police Protest

The recent police–lawyers clash at Tees Hazari Court in Delhi followed by strike by the lawyers and protests by the policemen is reflective of the deep malaise that afflicts the policemen-lawyers relationship. Though most denizens of the National Capital Region are on short fuse and turn aggressive on very minor or non-issues these days, the lawyers reign supreme in court premises and the policemen too bend to the diktats of the lawyers’ fraternity in the territorial limits of the courts.

In the incident at Tees Hazari court, a minor fracas about parking of a car by a lawyer right in front of the court lock-up meant for prison vans provided the spark. The lawyer refused to remove his car from the space, leading to the serious incident that followed. Seeing the commotion, more lawyers gathered and surrounded the lock-up, according to news reports, and demanded to enter the lock-up where prisoners were kept.

A few policemen who happened to be outside the lock up were thrashed badly. Deputy Commissioner of Police Monika Bhardwaj, who rushed to the spot, was confronted with abuses and manhandled by the lawyers. A police constable trying to shield the DCP was brutally beaten and kicked even as he lay unconscious.

The full details of the incident will be gone into by the judicial inquiry ordered by the Delhi High Court. However, news reports indicate that the policemen who fired had to do so to prevent the frenzied mob from not only lynching the policemen who were protecting the prisoners but also to save themselves as they came out to escape suffocation in the cloud of smoke that engulfed the lock up after vehicles were set on fire. In dealing with riotous mobs, policemen are often placed in such a situation. To fire or not to fire is their dilemma. Either way, they are in for trouble. There is no yardstick to gauge the number of rounds to be fired or to fire at all, except for the instructions drilled into their mind at all times that they should resort to minimum force to quell a mob. The decision is taken in seconds, after restraining oneself to the maximum extent possible.

Every policeman is well aware of the fact that even one round fired by him spells enormous trouble for him ahead. Court of inquiry, departmental enquiry, magisterial inquiry, judicial inquiry and commission of enquiry will make him run from pillar to post like an accused and years will be wasted away. With lynching having become a banal affair, policemen have the option to either get killed or save themselves by firing as a last resort.

Two pistols of the policemen have reportedly been taken away by the mob. Losing one’s service weapon is considered a very serious offence in the police forces and the two personnel whose pistols have been taken away will face inquiries, though all-out efforts will be made by the police to recover the weapon.

The role of police leadership has come to be questioned in the incident and the protest by thousands of police personnel last week was a clear manifestation of the trust deficit. A policeman seriously injured in the violence unleashed by the lawyers lamented that none from among his superior officers cared to visit him in hospital. Things came to such a pass that the lawyers dared to beat up a policeman riding a motorbike, the video of which went viral. Police personnel feared moving around the city, especially in the vicinity of courts, lest they are accosted and beaten up by lawyers. In no uncertain terms, the policemen sent the message to the top police brass that they expected to stand by them. 

While the Delhi High Court ordered the suspension of two police personnel and transfer of two IPS officers, the lawyers who set fire to several cars and government vehicles in the court premises were left untouched. This irked the police. Police personnel of Haryana, Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and even the IPS Association have expressed solidarity with the aggrieved Delhi Police personnel. The Commissioner of Delhi could do little to ameliorate the situation with the high court having passed the orders. He, however, addressed the personnel to maintain calm and assured them their grievances would be addressed.

Some of the demands of the police personnel cannot possibly be fulfilled in view of the high court orders. Yet, some of them can be addressed immediately. It will take a while to address issues that are out of the purview of the Delhi government. One can only wish that the guilty are awarded exemplary punishment.

The Delhi government can appeal to the apex court against the orders of the high court, seeking immediate relief from execution of the order of transfers and suspensions while the judicial inquiry is on.

The policemen have demanded that a forum be set up to address their grievances. Obviously, they are not able to vent their grievances to their superiors, which led to the mass protest. As in the paramilitary forces, senior police officials would be well advised to hold what is termed in military parlance as ‘Sainik Sammelan.’ These ‘sammelans’ have served as effective tools for redressal of grievances. Strict follow-up action is taken on the grievances recorded and the personnel apprised of the final outcome.

Police personnel all over the country have a common grievance of prolonged working hours, refusal of leave, bad living conditions and poor salary. While some states like Nagaland restrict the working hours of policemen to just eight hours, in most states they have to slog up to 16 hours.

The sooner the states and the central governments pay serious attention to the welfare of police personnel, the better it would be.

(The writer is retired IGP, CRPF)

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