VAPPALA BALACHANDRAN | 23 JULY, 2015
FAULTLINES EXPOSED: DELHI POLICE MUST BE ACCOUNTABLE TO THE CHIEF MINISTER
For the cameras
MUMBAI: The NDA government is using the same spurious arguments of former UPA Home Minister P.Chidambaram while rejecting Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s plea to place Delhi police under the state government. Chidambaram had rejected a similar request of former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit on Dec 26, 2012. He wrongly claimed that Central Government’s direct supervision of Delhi police was justified as it is “the practice in most capitals”.
Some senior police officers have supported this arrangement as they want to evade local accountability. It may be recalled that the Delhi Police had come under severe criticism during the public protests following the December 16, 2012 “Nirbhaya” gang rape incident.
Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit had to face this public anger although not controlling the police. The Central ministers and bureaucrats who were controlling the Delhi police were then hiding behind the Herbert Baker’s massive Secretariat columns. This public resentment was also one the reasons for the defeat of Congress in New Delhi.
Chidambaram was not at all correct when he said that the police in most capital cities are under the Central governments. Washington DC Police, which is a “Municipal Police”, is supervised by the Mayor and not by their federal government. It is however true that in the US pattern of policing, federal agencies like Secret Service, Park Police, Capitol Police, Diplomatic Security and FBI have policing powers to discharge their special responsibilities all over the country. But for the common man, crime and law and order in the capital city is handled by DC Police except in designated areas like the Capitol Hill, White House and National Parks. If we want to imitate the American example (which both UPA and NDA are keen to do) why can’t we allow Delhi State to raise their own municipal police with similar powers?
Similarly the British Home Office which had direct control over the London Metropolitan Police (MET) had to gradually cede such supervision to the London Mayor. First it was in 2000 with the establishment of Metropolitan Police Authority. Later the Mayor’s Office for Policing & Crime started supervising the MET from January 2012under the elected Police Commissioner system introduced by the Cameron Government. The tiny City of London Police manning 1.1 sq.miles of financial capital with 833 police officers was always under the Lord Mayor. The Ottawa City Police which is a municipal police is supervised by the Mayor and Civic Council. They also have a National Police (RCMP) doing policing all over Canada under the federal government supervision.
Paris, which had no Mayor till 1977, has a system like Delhi where the Central Government appoints the Chief of Police (“Prefect”). However some police powers especially on traffic and public places are shared with the Mayor after 2002. This is also because part of the police funding comes from the City council. Tokyo city police which was once the biggest police force (43,000) in the world works under the Tokyo Metropolitan Safety Commission with 5 members chaired by a Minister. Like many other countries, Japan has a National Police and regional police prefectures. Their National police is supervised by the National Public Safety Commission (NPSC) and not by the Central Government although NPSC is chaired by the Prime Minister who is “not empowered to exercise direct command or control”. Thus Chidambaram’s arguments were misleading.
Under the Seventh Schedule of our Constitution, police is a state subject. Delhi was granted full statehood in 2003, but not given the police and public order powers. Delhi Police with a strength of over 76,000 is now the biggest metropolitan police in the world. Yet it is odd that elected representatives of a state with 17 million population, more than that of Jammu & Kashmir State or double of Israel or Switzerland should have no say on their policing.
It is this lack of local supervision which was and is the cause of public resentment. Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit had publicly blamed them on January 13, 2013. She said that the public had lost their faith in them due to their “insensitive” approach. Dikshit acknowledged that people “shy away” from helping others who were in distress because they feel that they would be “harassed” by the police. She asked the force to change their attitude and style of functioning. But this did not seem to have changed anything at all.
On 25 April 2013 the Supreme Court remarked that the “Delhi Police has gone berserk”. They were taking suo motu cognizance of an incident shown repeatedly on visual media of a middle level police officer slapping a young woman so hard that she started bleeding from the ear. The woman and others were protesting against the rape of a 5 year old on April 20, 2013.
Media said that the meeting on July 20, 2015 between Delhi Police Commissioner B.S.Bassi and Chief Minister Kejriwal had only revealed their “differences”. This was over the public criticism on the Delhi Police’s handling of the recent brutal murder of a 19 year old girl who was stabbed 30 times. According to one daily Bassi was reported to have told Kejriwal that he “was not his boss”. This underscores the deep fault lines in the present policing of our capital. While the elected government which was able to garner 67 of the 70 seats in the Legislative Assembly feels that the police are “insensitive”, a Central government appointed police chief feels that everything is hunky- dory. This situation could have been justified during the Mughal or colonial times.
I have advice for Chief Minister Kejriwal. He should not expect any Central Government to hand over the Delhi Police to the Delhi State. Instead he should take advantage of a Home Ministry’s suggestion on May 21, 2013 to all States to set up “Municipal Police” in cities with population of more than 1 million. This was recommended by the Second Administrative Reforms Commission. They are to implement municipal laws including traffic. New York Police Department (NYPD), the largest police force in USA is a municipal police. So are the Washington DC Police and Ottawa city police. The Delhi state assembly should study the laws governing these police forces and pass a similar law creating a Delhi Municipal Police.