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The police should not be a law unto themselves

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The police should not be a law unto themselves

Ashok Kapur
When the just-retired Delhi commissioner of police was asked about violence against women, his reported response was: If the law allowed ‘us’, he would order all rapists to be shot dead! Such a mindset strikes at the root of good governance and the rule of law. All the exhortations to the civil service about good governance and service are meaningless if the enforcement arm of the state is virtually without any control or accountability.
However, it is not his fault. It is the ‘system’ that breeds such attitudes. If public servants vested with power and armed with the latest weaponry are not accountable to an external authority, they can get away with murder. In the case of a police force, it can do so literally. This, precisely, is the persistent malaise in Delhi’s police force — authority without accountability.
The canker cannot be correctly diagnosed and treated unless one delves into the history of the police commissioner ‘system’. All credit to the British, who first introduced the rule of law in India, with the enactment of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) in 1860. Arguably, it is the finest criminal code in the democratic world today. It was a piece of exquisite workmanship on the part of Thomas Babington Macaulay, who was also the author of the educational minutes of 1835.
Under the code, the police force was given limited authority and was fully accountable to the civilian magistracy. A magistrate was put in charge of the administration in the countryside. The magistrate, as the head, was the cornerstone of the majestic edifice of the Roman Empire under ‘rule of law’. And ‘law’ was defined as a ‘speaking magistrate’. It was the birth of democracy.
The British in India, however, made an exception and placed a ‘top cop’ in the three metropolitan cities in the country — Bombay, Calcutta and Madras — because there were Europeans in these cities. They worked out an arrangement — the police commissioner system. But very limited magisterial powers were given to the police.
For several decades the police commissioners were civil servants who continue to be, even today, trained and experienced magistrates. It is only later that men in uniform were appointed, more to accommodate delisted soldiers after the war than on merit. The civilian magistrate as police commissioner was the embodiment of the basic principle of modern democratic governance — civilian control of the armed services of the State.
Today, the principle is being twisted out of shape. More and more cities are being brought under the commissioner ‘system’, pursuant to a Supreme Court judgment on ‘police reforms’. But the judgment was based on a petition that said the British government promulgated the CrPC in the wake of the mutiny of 1857 to suppress the Indians. A greater travesty of the rule of law is difficult to imagine. ‘Reforms’ are being carried out on the basis of claims in a false affidavit, which appears to have been examined in the home ministry with its eyes wide shut. So much for the supposed accountability of the Delhi police to the ministry.
There will be no meaningful and lasting respite till basic reforms are carried out to democratise the police force.

Ashok Kapur is a former IAS officer The views expressed are personal


ASIAN AGE, APR 22, 2016

High Court quashes President’s Rule in Uttarakhand

 Yojna Gusai  
In a huge political embarrassment to the Centre and the BJP, the Uttarakhand high court on Thursday struck down President’s Rule in the state, imposed on March 27. Observing that the “proclamation of March 27 stands quashed”, the Uttarakhand high court also directed reinstated Congress chief minister Harish Rawat to prove his majority in the House on April 29.
While the Centre is to move the Supreme Court against the order on Friday, the high court decision has come as a major setback to both the Centre and the ruling BJP, which had openly been backing the rebel MLAs against the state’s Congress chief minister, Mr Harish Rawat. The Centre also intends to challenge the disqualification of the nine rebel Congress MLAs in the Supreme Court.
In an indication that the coming Parliament Session would be stormy, Congress on Thursday gave a notice to Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari seeking passage of a resolution condemning the Modi government for “destabilistion” of the Uttarakhand government and imposition of President’s Rule in the state. The BJP-led NDA government is in a minority in the Upper House.
After the court’s order, BJP president Amit Shah and senior ministers went into a huddle and decided that the government would move the Supreme Court on Friday challenging the judgment quashing the proclamation of President’s Rule.
While BJP leaders and spokespersons were struggling to put up a brave front, celebrations broke out at Congress headquarters and outside CM Harish Rawat’s residence in Dehradun. Appearing humble, Mr Rawat said that “instead of celebrating, we need to focus on development”. Adopting a conciliatory tone, Mr Rawat also urged the Centre to pursue the path of “cooperative federalism and let the state government work”. Then came his sting: “Woh mahabali hain, woh log shaktishali hain, woh chaure seene wale hain (They are powerful and have broad chests)... how can I fight them... I request them to let us work.” Mr Rawat said.
Uttarakhand Speaker Govind Singh Kunjwal termed the high court’s decision as “historic” and said it was a “slap” in the Centre’s face for trying to dislodge an elected government.
He said the “effective strength” of the House was now 62 as the high court had upheld the disqualification of the nine rebel Congress MLAs.
“The soul of the matter is whether it is open to the Central government to get rid of state governments, supplant or uproot the democratically-elected government, introduce chaos, undermine confidence of the little man who stands with a white paper to cast his vote, braving the snow, heat and rain,” the high court bench said. “We are of the view that be it suspension or dissolution, the effect is toppling of a democratically-elected government. It breeds cynicism in the hearts of citizens who participate in the democratic system and also undermines democracy and the foundation of federalism,” the bench said.
The bench, dictating the judgment in open court for nearly 150 minutes, said what was at stake here was democracy at large. It observed that the issue must be seen here on a larger canvas as India is a union of states with the Centre and states both sovereign in their respective spheres.
The HC, which had been breathing fire against the Centre for the past few days, continued to be fierce in its observations on Thursday, saying that President’s Rule “should be used as a matter of last resort”. BJP national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya claimed the “BJP is ready for the floor test”. The division bench of the high court, headed by Chief Justice K.M. Joseph, said the imposition of Central Rule was contrary to the law laid down by the Supreme Court. The bench also observed that the material considered (read sting CD) for imposing President’s Rule “has been found wanting”. Upholding the disqualification of nine dissident Congress MLAs, the court said they have to pay the price of committing the “constitutional sin” of defection by being disqualified.
The court turned down an oral plea made by the Centre’s counsel for a stay on its judgment to move the Supreme Court against it. “We won’t stay our own judgment. You can go to the Supreme Court and get a stay,” it said. “There is no President’s Rule now. The government has revived. We had told you to give us time (to write the verdict). But you forced us to pronounce it today. We had said we will not allow (ourselves) to be taken for a ride. We have no objection to being overruled,” the bench said.
Earlier the court, in severe criticism of the Centre’s move to impose President’s Rule, had lashed out, saying the proclamation under Article 356, just a day ahead of the floor test, amounted to cutting at the roots of democracy. It had observed that the government was introducing “chaos and undermining an elected government”. On Wednesday, it had maintained the “decision to impose President’s Rule was subject to judicial review as even the President can go terribly wrong”. Only a few weeks ago, Union finance minister Arun Jaitley had justified the imposition of President’s Rule, saying there was “no better evidence of a breakdown of the Constitution than this”. He had claimed the Congress government of Uttarakhand was “murdering democracy every day from March 18 till March 27”. The Uttarakhand HC had said, “It would be a travesty of justice if the Centre recalls its order imposing President’s Rule and allows someone else to form a government now.”
The court told the Centre that it could allow ousted CM Harish Rawat’s petition challenging the imposition of President’s Rule and ensure that a floor test is held. “Should we consider their application for stay moved on April 7? It was expected that till the judgment is pronounced, Central government will not recall (Article) 356. If you recall 356 and call someone else to form a government, what else would it be other than travesty of justice,” the bench said. The court lashed out after the Centre’s counsel said he was not in a position to give an assurance that the government would consider putting on hold the recall of its order imposing President’s Rule for a week. It gave the government’s counsel some time to take instructions. The bench then observed, “Otherwise you can do this in every state. Impose President’s Rule for 10-15 days and then ask someone else to take oath. More than angry, we are pained that you are behaving like this. That the highest authority — Government of India — behaves like this. How can you think of playing with the court?”


Government to allow Pakistani Hindus to buy property, open bank accounts

NEW DELHI: People belonging to minority communities of Pakistan, staying in India on a Long Term Visa, will soon be allowed to buy property, open bank accounts and get PAN and Aadhaar cards, with the Modi government planning to roll out special facilities for them.

Among other concessions the BJP­led government is all set to offer them include reduction in fees for registration as citizens of India from Rs 15,000 to as low as Rs 100.

Though the exact number of minority refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan living in India is not known, according to rough official estimates there are around two lakh such people, mostly Hindus and Sikhs.

There are around 400 Pakistani Hindu refugee settlements in cities like Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Jaipur, Raipur, Ahmedabad, Rajkot, Kutch, Bhopal, Indore, Mumbai, Nagpur, Pune, Delhi and Lucknow.

"The central government has been constantly reviewing the hardships being faced by the minority communities in Pakistan staying in India on LTV. To ease some of their difficulties, it is proposed to provide the facilities," a notification issued by the Home Ministry says.

The facilities include permitting opening of bank accounts without prior approval of the Reserve Bank of India subject to certain conditions, permission for purchase of dwelling unit for self­occupation and suitable accommodation for carrying out self­employment without prior approval of RBI subject to fulfilment of certain conditions.

Issue of driving licence, PAN and Aadhaar cards, permission to take up self­employment or for doing business which is considered safe from security point of view, dispensing with the requirement of personal appearance before the Foreigners Registration Officer for registration are a few other facilities being planned.

Allowing free movement within the State/ UT where they are staying instead of restricting their movement within the place of stay, allowing free movement to those living in the National Capital Region (NCR), simplifying the procedure for visit to a place in any other State/ UT are being proposed.

Permission for transfer of LTV papers from one State/ UT to another State/ UT, waiver of penalty on non­extension of short term visa/ LTV on time, permission to apply for LTV at the place of present residence in cases where the applicants have moved to the present place of residence without prior permission are some of the other highlights.

It has also been proposed to simplify the procedure for grant of Indian citizenship to such nationals belonging to minority communities in Pakistan.

Collector, Deputy Commissioner or the District Magistrate will be empowered to authorise, in his absence, in writing an officer not below the rank of Sub­Divisional Magistrate for administering the oath of allegiance to the applicant.

Powers will be given to the Collectors or the District Magistrates of a few select districts in Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Delhi, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh for a period of two years for registration of such Pakistani nationals as citizens of India.

"Reduction of fees for registration as citizen of India for nationals of Pakistan belonging to minority communities from the existing level ranging from Rs 5000 (under registration) to Rs 15,000 (under naturalisation), to a uniform fee of Rs 100/­ each at the time of application and at the time of grant of certificate of registration/ naturalisation," the notification says.

Ever since the Narendra Modi government came to power in May 2014, several steps including issuance of Long Term Visa (LTV) for these refugees have been initiated.

In September 2015, the government had decided to allow minority refugees from Bangladesh and Pakistan to stay even after expiry of their visas on humanitarian grounds.

In April 2015, the Home Ministry rolled out an online system for LTV applications and for their processing by various security agencies.

In November 2014, Home Minister Rajnath Singh had approved a number of facilities for them, including manual acceptance of applications for citizenship and consideration of an affidavit filed before the authority in return for citizenship renunciation certificate in case of the individual having a Pakistani passport. The same facilities were to be extended to the children of such refugees.


Uncertain change - There's nothing like a perfect choice in Bengal's politics today

Swapan Dasgupta

It has been a torrid fortnight or so for West Bengal's chief minister, Mamata Banerjee - or so it appears to someone viewing the state's assembly election campaign from afar. There was, first, the Vivekananda Road flyover collapse and the inevitable anger at the politically connected syndicates that are a source of everyday harassment. Then there was the kerfuffle over the somewhat unappetizing Anubrata Mandal and his supposed strong-arm tactics in Birbhum. And finally, there was the over-reaction of the Election Commission to the announcement of the proposed division of Asansol district and the chief minister's equally intemperate overreaction. Coupled with the 'intellectual' outrage over the erosion of human rights in Bengal, a probashi may be forgiven for believing that West Bengal is once again in a state of turmoil and, maybe, even at the cusp of uncertain change.

To what extent there is actual ferment in Bengal or whether the war of emotions is part of a normal campaign jumla (to use Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah's expression) is difficult for me to assess. Certainly, there is precious little by way of anecdotal evidence to substantiate the claim that the political temperature is competing with the scorching heat of this year's early summer. Business circles, whose opinions I tend to value a little more than the media, for example, don't seem to believe that West Bengal is on the cusp of yet another poriborton.

However, regardless of whether the electronic voting machines reveal a mood of intense dissatisfaction with the Trinamul Congress regime or indicates a willingness to give Mamata another bite of the cherry, the sound and fury of the campaign is revealing. More than anything else, it indicates that there is nothing akin to a perfect choice in the current politics of Bengal. Apart from those voters - some would say a majority - who follow the party 'line' out of a sense of tribal loyalty, the proverbial 'swing voters' whose preferences shape the final outcome are revealing their dissatisfaction with the entire trajectory of politics in the state. Yet, curiously, this impatience, often verging on anger, may not necessarily tilt the scales against the incumbent or in favour of the Communist-Congress combination.

Mamata Banerjee's spectacular victory in 2011 owed substantially to a belief that more than three decades of uninterrupted Left Front rule had not resulted in tangible improvements for the state. Yes, the bargadars of yore had been empowered with title deeds in the first two terms of Jyoti Basu. However, the exhilaration of having political power had been dulled by a phenomenon that came to be called 'cadre raj'. In plain terms, this meant that social empowerment had been derailed by the dictatorship of the Local Committee. It required the CPI(M)'s overkill in Nandigram and a show of peasant resistance in Singur (which Mamata exploited quite opportunistically) to bring the resentment against an overbearing 'party' to a head.

In the aftermath of the flyover tragedy, we are possibly witnessing early signs of resentment against an overbearing TMC that, in many areas, has replicated the control strategies of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in its entirety. There is enough anecdotal evidence to indicate that multiple factions of the TMC have inherited the unofficial levy on business activities, particularly new construction, which was imposed by the CPI(M)'s Local Committee. The syndicates of today are, in effect, the Local Committees of yesteryear. Choosing between the two is a matter of local preference, although the CPI(M) has often been credited with a single-window clearance system while the TMC seems hostage to internecine turf wars.

Both sets of rulers have been victims of the biggest challenge that confronts the state: the absence of enough meaningful economic activity. At one time, the Left Front nurtured the belief that an increase in rural consumption and productivity would automatically help in the revival of the cities. Jyoti Basu in particular allowed the cities - Calcutta in particular - to go to seed, hoping that rural resurgence would sooner or later have a multiplier effect. On her part, Mamata has taken off where Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee left and helped improve Calcutta immeasurably. The TMC's core base being in the urban clusters in and around Calcutta, the state of neglect and decay that marked urban Bengal has been reversed. Indeed, in terms of actually managing state expenditure, particularly in the crucial department of infrastructure upgradation, the TMC regime has outperformed the Left Front.

At the same time, both sets of governments have failed quite miserably in securing generous doses of private investment. If the exit of Tata Motors signalled the grand failure of the Left Front, the TMC has been the victim of its aftershocks. Despite the significant improvement in the quality of life in urban Bengal, large capital - which alone has a significant multiplier effect - has been hesitant to re-enter a state that it fled between 1967 and 1971. This is not entirely Mamata's fault, although her whimsical style of attracting investments hasn't helped matters. There is a larger problem of perception that neither political formation appears to be in a position to address.

There is, of course, the stereotype of the lack of a work culture in Bengal, including the thrust on entitlements that have little or no bearing on productivity. At one time, this was also linked to the bandh culture but, to be fair, Mamata has brought this under control. Also, with the Left in retreat at the national level, militant trade unionism appears to have waned quite significantly.

What has not waned, however, and in fact appears to have been strengthened is the over-politicization of daily life. The Left created the culture associated with a standing army of political cadres and Mamata inherited it and gave it a new life. The veritable army of under-employed youth who spend their time observing festivals (paid for by public subscriptions) and playing carom in clubhouses subsidized by the state are a direct consequence of the lack of economic growth. So too is the culture of political violence that has made Bengal seem as a state to avoid to outside investors. This too was the Communist movement's gift to Bengal, although today that same violence has been used quite effectively to uproot the Left from rural Bengal.

Indeed, looked from a longer perspective, most of the distortions visible in today's Bengal have their origin in the destructive political culture that the Left introduced and which was glorified by Bengali intellectuals. The early Communist intellectuals were often products ofbhadralok civility but in their distaste for bourgeois mores, they helped nurture a cultural coarseness that now finds expression in popular culture. In its own way, the TMC has imbibed many of these facets of popular culture better than the Left. At the same time, Mamata's party hasn't entirely been able to internalize and give positive expression to the unfulfilled aspirations that determine its rough edges.

The hangover of a Left intellectual culture that romanticized deprivation and stigmatized entrepreneurship has marred Bengal's political evolution. Whether the enhanced confidence that comes with a less-burdened state and re-election will facilitate a new Mamata is a project outside rational expectations. However, the possibilities of a forward movement for Bengal seems greater under a chastened TMC than under a curious Left-Congress dispensation that is likely to use any unexpected victory to convert West Bengal as a base for a political war against the Narendra Modi government. For a crumbling Left, the West Bengal poll is the last hope against impending irrelevance.

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