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Why the Tapas Pal case highlights the urgent need for police reforms

Monday, 7 July 2014 - 7:38pm IST | Agency: DNA
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Recently, we saw the furore that was caused after the video clip of Trinamool Congress (TMC) MP Tapas Pal openly threatening CPM workers with rape and murder came to light. The fact that despite the gross misconduct, the West Bengal government took no police action proves that the police reforms to maintain law and order must be implemented now or never.

For a parliamentarian to speak in such language of violence, which is a criminal act under the Indian Penal Code (IPC), and then just being let off after apologising is not done. Pal is not in jail today and this starkly highlights the brutal fact that the police forces are politicised in Indian states. 

It has been eight years now since the Supreme Court gave its landmark judgement in the Prakash Singh vs Union of India case, but most states have not complied with its order so far. Some states tried to implement the Supreme Court's directives in bits and pieces, which showed their half-hearted approach and earned strong objection from the apex court. Four states in 2010 received a notice from the Supreme Court for total non-compliance with its 2006 order, and quite expectedly West Bengal is one of them.

During the three decade-long Left Front rule in West Bengal, the police were often criticised as being the part of the party and not of the government. Serious questions had to be asked about the role of the police in the Singur and Nandigram struggles, where they had acted rough with a dissenting group of peasants on government directives. It was thought that with the arrival of TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee in the Writers Building on the promise of "poriborton" or change in the 2011 state legislative elections, policing would take a new direction than in CPM times. The expectation was natural as Mamata kept the Home portfolio for herself, and she has suffered many police brutalities in the past, which she often termed political vendetta by left rulers. 

Then why is the West Bengal police under her a silent spectator today, while political leaders, one after the other, make statements about beheading or slitting the wrists and throats of their opponents with a total sense of impunity? The recent case of Pal, where he threatened to let his boys loose to rape CPM workers, is just the tip of the iceberg in the prevalent political discourse of Bengal. His case received national condemnation because the media, after the 2012 Delhi gang-rape, has started to focus more on violence against women. Otherwise, he has just practiced what many in the Bengal's ruling party have been doing over the last one year with great amount of political patronage.

Take the case of Anubrata Mandal, the Birbhum district committee chief of the TMC, whose notoriety for issuing murderous threats to the opposition got him a Wikipedia page, which now also features the audio of his now infamous speech during the last Panchayat elections. In July 2013, Mandal publicly incited TMC workers to burn down the houses of independent candidates and bomb police officers if they dared to interfere. Then, in November 2013, he publicly threatened to chop off the hands of Congress supporters. During the Lok Sabha campaign, in front of media people and cameras, Mandal made a veiled threat to a reporter that he might die in accident if his channel doesn't stop negative coverage of Mandal's actions. 

But how Mamata reacted to these incidents gives us a hint why they only inspired Pal to publicly announce that he would behead and shoot opposition workers. Mandal, who Mamata Banerjee calls by his nickname 'Kesto', is now implicated in the murder of an independent candidate. "Kesto is an efficient organizer, and our party recognizes good and efficient organizers," Mamata said in a political rally in Durgapur in February this year, and vowed "to defend him to the end". In April 2014, the Kolkata High Court slammed the Bengal government over its inaction on Mandal, and Justice Dipankar Datta made strong remarks in this case which failed to move the chief minister. 

"Is this not a cognisable offence? Why didn't the police take steps against the politician who openly asked the mob to hurl bombs on the police? If a politician, who is not even an MLA or an MP, considers himself to be above the law, then I have also taken oath to protect law. There must be a limit to everything," Justice Datta said.  Mamata, even after this rap by the High Court, sympathised with 'Kesto', saying, "He just misses out on oxygen in his brains". Today, even after all this controversy, Mandal is a free man and enjoys great rapport with the Mamata. 

Another case that is grabbing the headlines of late is that of Labhpur MLA Monirul Islam from the same ruling party, accused of murdering three people of a family during an altercation in a village meeting. However, the police allegedly dropped Islam's name from the chargesheet recently due to political pressure, even though he admitted on camera that he had "crushed those people under his feet". In June 2013, the same Monirul Islam openly threatened to behead Birbhum Congress leader Bapi Datta. Mamata Banerjee shared the dais with him on several occasions after these incidents, and apparently also defended him in her political rallies.

Today, the West Bengal police is making a mockery of itself by letting off people with ruling party connections even after they regularly issue threats of murder and rape on camera, without even a little investigation or registering a criminal case. On the other hand, it is constantly trying to frame theatre and film director Suman Mukherjee for the alleged suicide attempt of a reigning Bengali film actress, though there is no FIR, just because he harbours a different political view. The amount of political interference in the policing in Bengal has reached an unprecedented level, and need course correction. 

In the September 22, 2006 case on police reforms, the Supreme Court sought to achieve two main objectives: i.) functional autonomy for the police through security of tenure, streamlined appointment and transfer processes, and the creation of a "buffer body" between the police and the government; and ii.) enhanced police accountability, both for organisational performance and individual misconduct.

The court gave the following seven directives for all states to implement within a prescribed time: 

1.) a) Constitute a State Security Commission to ensure that the state government does not exercise unwarranted influence or pressure on the police, b) lay down broad policy guidelines, and c) evaluate the performance of the state police.

2.) Ensure that the DGP is appointed through a merit-based, transparent process and secure a minimum tenure of two years

3.) Ensure that other officers on operational duties (including SPs and Station House Officers (SHOs)) are also provided a minimum tenure of two years

4.) Separate investigation, and law and order functions

5.) Set up a Police Establishment Board to decide transfers, postings, promotions and other service related matters of officers of and below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) and make recommendations on postings and transfers above the rank of DSP

6.) Set up a Police Complaints Authority at the state level to inquire into public complaints against officers of and above the rank of DSP in cases of serious misconduct including custodial death, grievous hurt, or rape in police custody, and at district levels to inquire into complaints against personnel below the rank of DSP in cases of serious misconduct

7.) Set up a National Security Commission at the Union level to prepare a panel for selection and placement of chiefs of the central police organisations with a minimum tenure of two years.

If the West Bengal government would have implemented even the first directive in time as the Supreme Court ordered, no Tapas Pal, Anubrata Mandal or Monirul Islam would have been roaming the streets freely today without any fear of the law. 

Political bloodshed and language of violence are now commonplace in Bengal, and no political party acts responsibly. Why are the left leaders not demanding the implementation of the Supreme Court ruling on police reforms, rather than blaming the TMC for everything and ending every argument saying the police are partial? Their role makes it clear that no party has political will, because all of them think of the police force as part of their design to crush their opponents. Only a suo motu contempt proceeding by the Supreme Court can save the people of Bengal now. 


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