PRAKASH SINGH, former Director General of Police who has had a long innings in Uttar Pradesh is well known as the key initiator for Police reforms in India. The retired Indian Police Service officer also served in Assam and as the Chief of the Border Security Force. He speaks to Seema Mustafa on the state of the police after the Tuticorin deaths of a father and son in police custody and the mowing done of eight policemen by a well connected criminal Vikas Dubey in Kanpur. Excerpts from the Interview:

Q. What is your reading of this UP incident where a highly connected criminal Vikas Dubey has the audacity to kill cops in an encounter?

Long ago, in 1993, Government of India had appointed Vohra Committee to examine the activities of crime syndicates and mafia organizations which had developed links with and were being protected by government functionaries and political personalities. The Committee, in its Report, brought out that “the network of the mafia is virtually running a parallel government, pushing the state apparatus into irrelevance”. There was discussion in Parliament on the subject, but unfortunately there was hardly any follow up action.

The nexus between criminals, politicians and government functionaries has, over the years, assumed very dangerous proportions. The Kanpur incident is an unfortunate manifestation and result of that nexus. Fortunately, Vikas Dubey has been arrested within a week. It goes to the credit of UP Police and speaks volumes about the inter-state coordination to arrest an absconder.

Q. How complicit is the administration and authorities when a criminal goes missing for several days in this fashion?

Complicity was probably there. The suspected police personnel have already been arrested and would be prosecuted in due course. However, more than complicity, there was laxity in apprehending him. It is a pity that the police party was not adequately prepared when it raided the village. What was worse, while the criminal had all the information about the impending raid, police had no clue that Vikas Dubey was waiting to ambush them. After the initial setback, however, UP Police got into top gear, collected all the information, alerted the neighbouring states and perhaps countries also, and were able to arrest the criminal.

Q. Destroying his house would you say is a sort of panic reaction to destroy evidence?

I am not aware of the circumstances under which Vikas’ house was destroyed. May be, it was built on government land and amounted to encroachment. In any case, the action was not to destroy evidence but to send a strong message that those indulging in such wanton attack on policemen shall be very sternly dealt with.

Q. This nexus between the criminal and the politician is old. Can you recall a parallel in your times?

The nexus has been there for a long, long time. During my tenure as DGP UP, I also had to face this problem. It is an established fact that, for the first time, a relentless campaign was carried out against the mafia those days. They were all either neutralized or sent behind bars. Some went underground and could not be arrested. Their properties were attached. Government claimed to have established a “bhayamukta samaj” (society where there was no fear).

In the present UP Assembly, according to Association of Democratic Reforms, there are 36% MLAs who have declared criminal cases against them and there are 26% MLAs who have serious criminal cases including that of murder against them. No wonder, many of these MLAs would be patronizing and extending protection to local goons.

Q. Wouldn’t you say that the politicisation of the police that officials like you tried to fight is complete now?

Politicisation of the police is a serious problem. A sizeable percentage of officers today carry an invisible stamp on their foreheads showing their loyalty to a particular party. This is a dangerous trend. We need to arrest this. That is why I have been agitating for police reforms.

One of the principal objectives of the reforms – and the Supreme Court has issued a direction to ensure this – is to insulate the police from external pressures. Every state is expected to constitute a State Security Commission for the purpose. The Commission would, on the one hand, ensure that the state government does not interfere in the day to day functioning of the police, and would, at the same time, also ensure that the police do not transgress the limits of law. The states are under judicial pressure to set up such a body. Unfortunately, even in states where such bodies have been set up, they have diluted its composition and curtailed its powers. As a result, the SSCs are not really effective. Nevertheless, there is some check. Let us hope that the trend is reversed in due course of time.

Q. Is there a way out, to retrieve conscience and professionalism of the police force? Or are we staring down the abyss?

There is always hope. We have politicized officers. We have also very dedicated officers committed to the Rule of Law. Toynbee said that every society has a “creative minority” which ensures that the society continues to uphold its values. We have this creative minority in the police also. Police reforms will happen in the country, if not today, then tomorrow. But happen they will.

Q. Tamil Nadu police brutality was of another level altogether. Custodial deaths have been increasing. Seems to be a dead end with all governments complicit including the central?

Custodial deaths are a problem. However, here we need to draw a line between deaths in police custody and deaths in judicial custody. My experience is that deaths in judicial custody are always far more than those in police custody. However, whatever deaths happen in police custody are also a matter of serious concern.

There is reason to believe that these cases are not sincerely investigated and there is a tendency to exonerate the guilty policemen. Supervisory officers have an important role to play here. They must ensure that the guilty officers do not get away because of any trade unionist mentality.

The Tuticorin incident was disgraceful. There could be no justification for the kind of brutal treatment the father and son duo were subjected to. My profound regret in this case is that the local police did not rise to the occasion. The guilty policemen should have been arrested and charged under appropriate sections of law. There should been no need of any intervention by the High Court or for the case to have been handed over to the CBI.