Wednesday, 2 December 2020

Trimming VIP Security

Updated: January 19, 2013 12:18 pm

The recent gruesome mass-rape of a young girl in the national capital has shocked the nation. Reactions to the incident have been massive. So much so that Delhi was virtually paralysed for three days. Protests, at the time of writing this column, continue unabated. However, the issue merits a deeper analysis, which, we have done in the pages that follow. But let me have two initial observations. One is that protests have degenerated to sheer chaos, losing clarity of purpose in the absence of an identifiable leadership. What is worse is that the Chief Minister of Delhi is politicising the matter by blaming the Delhi Police and using the occasion to realise her long-cherished goal of bringing it directly under her control. At the moment, Delhi Police, through the Lt. Governor of Delhi, is accountable to the Union Home Ministry.

Secondly, the anger of the protestors and the TV anchors who blindly support these protestors has been wrongly directed at the Police. If one is witnessing rape-incidents countrywide, it is not because of poor policing, but due to a bigger social malaise—the attitude towards women in general. An utterly ineffectual (should we say overworked?) Judiciary has further aggravated the matter. The prolonged and highly intrusive judicial process often fails to convict the rapists, thus denying justice to the victim and failing to act as a detriment to the future rapists. Therefore, it is unfortunate that the police are the target of the blame-game. In fact, in this particular case, the Delhi Police has done a commendable job in apprehending all the accused. Now it is up to the courts to convict them under existing laws and if these laws are not good enough then it is time for the government to amend the laws suitably and obtain the necessary approval of the Parliament.

This is not to suggest that Delhi Police, or for that matter Indian Police as whole, has no scope for improvement in making the lives of the people more secure. The reality is just the converse. India is one of the least policed countries in the world. India has 145 policemen for every one hundred thousand (a lakh) citizens. This is in sharp contrast to the corresponding figure of 315 in the United States, 200 in the United Kingdom and 290 in Australia. A recent report suggests that all states and Union Territories have police vacancy of nearly 4.20 lakh against the sanctioned strength of over 20.80 lakh policemen across the country. Obviously, this huge gap between the requirement and reality takes a toll on policing on the ground.

That policing in India is inequitable is because here lives of some citizens seem to be much more important than others. We have what is called the VIP syndrome. As a result, the cream of our police personnel is engaged in providing VIP security. According to the Times of India, available data dated 2010 showed that 16,788 VIPs across the country were guarded by 50,059 police personnel which was 21,761 more than what was actually sanctioned for their security. But then, there is no transparent method of determining who is a VIP to be provided that security.

For instance, the recent fratricidal episode relating to liquor-baron Ponty Chadha in Delhi had exposed how our security system was beset with some serious structural handicaps. As already pointed out, the policing in India is not only highly lopsided but also terribly inequitable. The lives of some select few in India are considered more important than the majority Indians. Ponty Chadha was a VIP getting state security. But then, what is important to note here is that though he was ordinarily a resident of Delhi, his personal security officers (PSOs) were from Punjab Police. The question here is whether the Punjab Police is adequate enough to have spared its personnel to provide security to persons living outside the state.

However, that is not the case, as not long ago the Punjab and Haryana High Court had directed the state government to remove “the ugly security tents that dot over 60 Ministers & MLAs, 12 officials and 75 judges” homes across Chandigarh”. The Court said that compared to ordinary people, the persons concerned did not face any security threats and that they kept the security men “more as a status symbol”. But what was worse was that in March 2012, it was discovered that about 2,800 Punjab policemen—the strength of three battalions- were deployed as cooks, drivers, gardeners and even masseurs in VIP households across Punjab! Apparently, the state government has now recalled these hapless police personnel, if deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal is to be believed.

But then Punjab, where over 8000 police personnel, constituting more than one-tenth of the 70, 000 strong police force, are engaged in VIP duty is not the state doing anything unique. The practice is rampant all over the country. In fact, as a state, it is Bihar which has the highest percentage of its police personnel that is devoted to provide VIP security. According to an estimate by the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D), 3030 VIPs in Bihar enjoyed security provided by more than 10,000 policemen, about 10-12 per cent of the existing strength of the state police force around 70,000, including 400 deputy superintendents of police, 13,000 inspectors, sub-inspectors, assistant sub-inspectors. And this in spite of the fact that the police-public ratio in Bihar is far less than the national average—Bihar has only 79 policemen for one lakh population.

Similarly, take the case of Assam, one of the most troubled states in the country. Here too, out of the total police strength of around 70,000 personnel, more than 8,000 policemen are engaged in the security of the VIPs. Likewise, how is the situation in the national capital? Delhi Police may be the world’s biggest metropolitan police force with sanction for 83,762 personnel. But the reality is that only around 30 per cent of the existing strength of 60000 is actually available for general policing, that is, taking care of nearly 20 million people. Because, more than 14,000 of 60,000 Delhi Police personnel provide security to 8800 VIPs in the metropolis.

But this is not all. Many Delhi VIPs also get additional security cover of National Security Guard (NSG). The Special Protection Group (SPG) protects the families of Prime Minister, former Prime Minister Vajpayee and Sonia Gandhi. In fact, the annual budget of the SPG is now over 279 crore of rupees. And if you add the annual budget of NSG of about 200 crore rupees, not to speak of the expenditure incurred by the Delhi Police and the police in various states, the cost of the VIP security will touch a huge figure. Apparently, this cost is being adjusted out of the overall budgeting of the internal security, thus compromising on the security of the countless ordinary people of the country aam aadmi.

Obviously the VIP list needs to be pruned. When he was the Home Minister, P Chidambaram had undertaken such an exercise. The Home Ministry had drastically downsized the number of the VIPs, particularly those getting NSG cover. But such was the power that the affected VIPs enjoy under the present ruling establishment that Chidambaram’s exercise came a cropper. No VIP was prepared to shed his or her security cover, which, over the years, has come to be seen as a status symbol rather than protecting his or her life.

Under normal circumstances and in a country that respects the rules of law and the spirit behind them, determining the security needs of a person is the job of the professional security experts. But in India what happens is that it is the political bosses (ministers, chief ministers/Prime Minister) who often determine who will be provided special security by overruling the recommendations of the officials of the committees that are meant for this very purpose. This phenomenon has become all the more perverse over the recent years under coalition regimes. Unstable governments have been forced to accede to the demands of the leaders of the coalition partners and supporters and they include religious persons, journalists and businessmen- who view security strictly as a status symbol.

Needless to say that PSOs provided by the State are often misused by the beneficiaries. No wonder why once in Punjab when a woman president of a religious organisation was charged with murder, her PSO, an ASI of Punjab Police, was the prime accused. And no wonder why a constable of the Uttarakhand Police, a PSO, is under the scanner now for his role in the murders of Ponty Chadha and his brother.

Viewed thus, despite her apprehensive role in aggravating the post-rape situation, I welcome the move by Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit in urging Union Home Minister Sushi Kumar Shinde to ensure rationalisation of police deployment, including for VIP security, in the national capital.

 By Prakash Nanda

prakashnanda@udayindia.in

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