Discontent is simmering among Karnataka’s police personnel. They are unhappy with the recent budget ignoring their longstanding demand for better pay, perks and working conditions. If social media is any indication of the intensity of anger in the police force, there is reason for Karnataka to be worried. Some 80,000 police personnel ranging from superintendents of police down to the constables are planning to go on strike. They are annoyed that the state budget for 2019-20 does not provide sufficient funds for implementation of the recommendations made by the Raghavendra Auradkar Committee in 2016. After studying the situation of police personnel in 10 states and finding that Karnataka’s cops stood 8th in terms of pay, the committee recommended a 30-35% increase in their salaries. This would have meant a hike of about Rs 6,500 to Rs 8,500 in the salary of a policeman. Since then, the government has promised to implement the recommendations. Even recently, Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy promised the state’s police personnel that his government would hike their salaries. But nothing has come of these promises. It has not translated into budgetary allocation. Kumaraswamy’s budget set aside Rs 270 crore for the entire police force. Of this, Rs 20 crore has been allocated for improving basic amenities in the police’s living quarters and another Rs 103 crore for risk insurance. For the third consecutive year, the budget is silent on the 30% increase in salaries.
In their social media posts, police personnel are pressing the Akhila Karnataka Police Maha Sangha to call for a state-wide protest. Police service rules forbid them from going on strikes. Police are mandated with the responsibility of maintaining law and order and protecting life and public property. Any indiscipline on their part will evoke a stern reaction from the government. This was the case in 2016, when a section of the police force planned to go on mass leave. The Siddaramiah government responded by arresting leaders of the protest and warning others that they would be suspended, even fired from their jobs, if they did so.
The Karnataka police force is grossly understaffed and underpaid. Long hours of work and little opportunity to take leave or even their weekly off have left them tired and dispirited. Low salaries prompt some to be corrupt. Police morale is low. How can we expect them to work diligently? Successive governments have ignored their well-being. This must change. While a protest by police personnel will invite action, the government must ensure that it does not come to that.