Street confrontations with the police have become commonplace in Uttarakhand. Every goon and his cousin are willing to challenge the police with the backing of some politician or a dozen supporters. Be it the mining mafia surrounding a chowki in Doon, or a crowd chasing and beating up forest officials seeking to clear encroachments in Haldwani, the lack of respect for the uniform is universal. For any government to have its law and order enforcement arm so diminished is a problem. Matters can take a turn for a lot worse if corrective action is not taken.
One of the reasons why the police and the people are so often at loggerheads – as AAP has discovered in Delhi – is the compromised nature of the force. Very often it is complicit in the violations of the law, sometimes because it has no choice. The local cop is obviously among the first to learn about illegalities, even if it has nothing directly to do with his job – such as encroachment on public land, or a building being constructed in an illegal way. This is done in cohorts with the departments concerned such as the MDDA, or the Nagar Nigam officials. There is only so much a cop can do to deter such activity, while at the same time he needs to make the transgressors know he is aware. Herein comes the ‘hafta’ – a tax imposed that does not so much ‘allow’ the violations, as much as takes a share of the earnings while they are coming in. Over time, the cop forgets which law is being violated – there are so many of them – and fails to prevent activity that is directly under his jurisdiction. Things can only go downhill from there. It infuriates the wrong-doers that the very person they pay off regularly all of a sudden stands in opposition to them.
This cat and mouse game could continue endlessly except that it gradually erodes the moral authority of the cop to the point that he becomes ineffective even in serious situations. Terrorist attacks, communal riots, rapes and murders become possible because of the numerous doors and windows left open by the police in the normal course. The liquor smuggler brings in the terrorists’ weapons. The local slumlord also doubles up as a ‘community’ leader. One activity is strengthened by the other. Compromising with one seemingly ‘innocuous’ one allows the other to breed. This is why any government worth its salt has to ensure that law breaking does not become a habit with the people.
It is a fact that many of the departments that allow irregularities do so because of lack of staff and resources. The answer lies in the government undertaking a work audit of the departments and shifting human resources around to where they are needed. Also, modern technology is proving a major force-multiplier these days in many ways. Best practices need to be introduced in the management of departments so that functioning becomes result instead of process oriented. If the red lines are clearly demarcated everywhere, with clearly defined and reasonable penalties, the policeman would not be required to overlook so much in the normal course. A generally law-abiding citizenry would mean that the really important transgressions of the law would become more starkly apparent to the law-enforcer.
If challenging the policeman becomes ‘normal’ practice, it creates conditions that organised and really dangerous criminals take advantage of. A generally poor law and order environment, or laxity of other kinds, attracts criminals to take up residence in that place. This is already becoming evident in Uttarakhand, where much of the crime is proving to have roots in other states. There was a time when this region was where terrorists from the Punjab would come for rest and recuperation, confident they would not be disturbed. Uttarakhand should not, today, become the watering hole of criminals of a different kind because the police are too busy doing things other than its job.