By Patricia Mukhim
Journalists are in their profession not to defend the government in power. We owe our allegiance to the readers and to our profession. The onus for a dispassionate analysis of any situation falls on the journalist. Hence a journalist’s proximity to any power centre will compromise his/her commitment to journalism. The more professional distance we maintain the better it is for us. Very often we are told by those in Government not to conflagrate the situation (the recent Garo Hills incident); not to sensationalise our stories and headlines and so on and so forth. Many people teach us journalism on a daily basis! Those at the cutting edge of the administration and the maintenance of law and order feel we should not go to town with our stories. But we are reporters and we report what we see; not the perspectives as told to us by an interested party. The etymology of journalism is ‘journal’ which means a record of events as they are; not as we assume they should be.
This writer has time and again drawn the attention of readers to the near lawless situation obtaining in Garo Hills today. From one militant group – the ANVC – which is currently in a suspension of operation (SOO) mode with Government of India, we now have groups with several acronyms. The ANVC has split and the (B) group is like a rogue elephant going it alone. There is the GNLA, the UALA, the LAEF and I bet my last penny that if the State Police continues to flounder like this then we will have many more groups coming up. The turf is fertile for extortion and even petty thugs are now having a field day. There is apparently no policing happening at all. And we cannot blame the guys in the field when the leadership is so pathetically vacuous.
Consider this unhappy scenario. We have a DGP who was forced to take up the mantle much against his wishes. Why would he take on something he probably has no stomach for? We have 5 Additional DGPs all based in Shillong, 4 IGP rank officers and 3 DIGs. For a state with 75 police stations and a population of 30 lakh, with just .001 percent who might have criminal proclivities, do we need this top heavy structure? Can each one of these officials inform us what their daily output is? How many files do they need to push? An enlightened guess is that many of them are underworked. Is this the reason why some of these top shots are seen at every social function? Meghalaya cannot afford this top-heavy, non-delivering set-up. Some of the ADGPs and IGPs should be pushed out of the State. It might save money and allow employment of more field level policemen. The Police budget for 2012-13 was Rs 375 crore. Of this, approximately 88% went into salaries, leaving only 12 % ( Rs 45 crore) for maintenance of vehicles, buildings etc. Why should so much man power be deployed for so little output? Today Meghalaya needs several contingents of policemen trained in hard core counter-insurgency operations (CI Ops) to take the militants head-on. We need a DGP who is an operations man with leadership qualities and the drive to deliver.
Last month the Home Minister personally toured all the five districts of Garo hills. This is the first time that an HM has gone on a fact finding mission in a troubled zone! Ironically, the DGP did not accompany her. The ADGP (Law and Order) travelled to Garo Hills separately and did not attend the citizen’s meeting convened by the HM at the Circuit House. He should have been there so that any commitment made by the HM can be translated into actionable points for police. Only the IGP (Western Range) Mr Nongpluh, was with the HM! Is this the respect that the senior officials have for their Minister?
The fact of the matter is that Meghalaya Police has lost focus. All the good intentions and actions put together by former DGP N Ramchandran have been forgotten by his successor/s. There is no continuity in the force. Everything is seen as a personal initiative. For instance, what has happened to the ‘Safe Secure Shillong’ initiative which was launched with much fanfare in October 2012 by the present Chief Minister? This is a proposal that the Union Home Ministry had put forward and urged all states to comply with. We have not even started.
Evidently the police leadership has no strategy to address contemporary issues such as police response time to reach a crime scene? The public as stakeholders have the right to know how the city patrols are functioning. Are they well equipped? Are they sufficiently manned? On how many occasions have the city patrols responded to a distress call? Was the police response time recorded for strategic analysis? The city patrols were flagged off by the Chief Minister in September 2012 from the Police headquarters with 5 Gypsy patrols for Shillong and 3 for Tura town. How are these functioning? Do we have any idea? In the recent case of attempted molestation of a mentally challenged girl in Tura, which has triggered the recent disturbances in Garo hills, the Tura police came under criticism for delayed response to the distressed call. The family members of the molested girl have said on camera that the delayed response from the police has aggravated the situation. If that was the case, where are the three city patrols allotted to Tura deployed? Are they effectively deployed?
If these city patrols are properly deployed in a small town like Tura, the police response to the distress call from the family of the molested girl would have been prompt. But the reality proves contrary. This clearly is an example of failure of the police leadership. Another area where the police leadership lacks vision, direction and strategy is in addressing the plethora of rape cases reported from various parts of the state. What is the strategy spelt out by the police leadership to deal with rape cases? Have any special fast track investigation teams been formed? What about fast track scientific examination systems created and kept in place for examining the biological samples collected in a rape case? The delay in charge-sheeting of every case is due to delay in scientific examination reports. So why the delay in getting Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) reports? Is FSL not a part of the police establishment? Is it not under the direct control of the DGP? Why is the police leadership blaming the FSL? This blame game is strange indeed!
Militancy in Garo Hills is a saga of bad police leadership. The GNLA, ANVC (B), UALA, LAEF ANVC and other petty armed gangs are having a field day. What is the police strategy to tackle militancy? How is that communicated down the chain of command? Is the SOP followed? What is the surrender policy for militants? Is not the police leadership accountable for the mess in Garo Hills? Rampant extortion, killings, kidnapping, extortion demands letters to all BDOs and many unreported militancy related crimes are carrying on unabated.
Things will spiral out of control in any situation unless they are tackled timely. In the present morass Garo Hills could well go the Manipur way with militant outfits mushrooming every day. Before the February elections, Sohan Shira was looking for a surrender package. Now he has been able to refurbish his lost ammunition. How did this happen? It is also a fact that there are rogue police officials and their subordinates as well who have made a killing from extortion and direct ownership of coal mines. Such should be transferred out immediately.
Let’s look at investigation in Meghalaya! It reflects amateur policing. The investigation of the CMJ University is a classic case of lack of professionalism by the CID – the State’s premier investigating agency. The day the FIR was registered against CMJ, the CID failed to secure the office complex of CMJU which resulted in vandalism of the premises ostensibly by some miscreants. Why didn’t CID seal the complex the same day and seize all relevant documents for investigation? Was the vandalism stage managed by CMJU authorities? As a result all relevant documents have disappeared from the CMJU office. Will this not adversely affect the course of investigation by CID? CM Jha can now claim innocence in the court of law in the absence of documentary proof of guilt. What is laughable is that Mr SP Sharma, the legal counsel for CM Jha is in constant conversation with the offender. Don’t Police have the right to get the call details from Sharma’s phone? Or do ordinary people have to do the sleuthing?
The list of failures is too many to be recounted. And yet the Police continue to escape accountability for their lacklustre performance. It’s ‘business as usual’ in Police Headquarters. There is no sense of urgency at all. Can we afford to have such a Police Department in Meghalaya? The essence of policing is to prevent a crime from happening, to detect a case in time, arrest the accused promptly, immediate response to a distressed call. These are parameters to measure police professionalism. If these parameters are ignored policing is a failure.
I write this piece as a responsible citizen and member of the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) and not as a rabble rouser. I therefore hope that what is pointed out here is taken in the right spirit.