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FEATURE ARTICLE: Policing the national capital: Commonwealth Games, community engagement and the threat of terrorism in Delhi August 5, 2010

Posted by southasiamasala in : Dash, Kamala Kanta, Features, India , trackback

Kamala Kanta Dash

The Delhi Police are prepared more than ever before to face any terrorist attack. However, to succeed in their initiative to police terrorism they need a sustained community engagement policy. Counter-terrorism at present is facing a twofold challenge; one is the structural challenge that includes appointments, salary, procurement of weapons and high technology based surveillance systems and the second is the ideological challenge that has trapped the police in a repressive colonial model of policing which, in turn, has not allowed the police to develop belongingness with the people. The new amendment in the Delhi Police Act 2010 must target both these institutional and ideological aspects of reform.

“The Delhi Police is making whole-hearted efforts to improve the quality of policing in the city so as to be a model police force for the entire country.” Y. S. Dadwal, Police Commissioner of Delhi

It is both a privilege and a challenge to police a diverse and multicultural community of 18 million people belonging to many faiths, languages and ethnic identities. Policing the national capital has become the toughest job in the recent years given the increasing number of terrorist attacks. Delhi has faced three major terrorist attacks in the last decade and as per the intelligence sources it remains a site of impending attacks. Each attack has challenged the reputation and efficiency of the police, though every time the police have emerged more equipped to handle such a crisis. However, the upcoming Commonwealth Games (CWG) to be held from 3rd to 14th October 2010 will be a real test of the preparation that the Delhi Police have done since last serial blasts on 13 September 2008 and more specifically the cautionary preparation in the post-26/11 Mumbai attacks.

With a mission to deliver the ‘Best Ever Commonwealth Games’, the 19th CWG is set to transform many facets of public life in Delhi. The Indian government has prepared a budget outlay of more than Rs.10,000 crore (about US$2 billion) for the games and a total of more than Rs.30,000 crore (about US$6 billion), which includes non-sports related infrastructure building like upgrading the airports, roads and beautification of the city with the aim of turning the capital into truly a ‘global city’. This makeover includes a massive overhaul of infrastructure, public transport and security services in Delhi. In addition, the Chief Minister Ms. Sheila Dixit has put strong emphasis on changing the public culture of Delhi and has urged Delhiites to behave and be exemplary hosts to all the dignitaries, visitors and guests. Delhi has had the experience of arranging a mega event in 1982 in the form of the Asian Games, but the city has changed drastically in 28 years in regard to demography and the growing international stature of India. The Union government and the city-state government are readying to cash in on the possible success of the CWG. What has become clear is that the Indian government wants to display its soft power through this international event. However, managing more than 8,000 athletes from 71 countries and at least 100,000 foreign visitors, with an estimated total of 70,000 spectators visiting five designated venues daily will be a daunting task for the police. Apart from the issue of delays in preparing the venue and related facilities, there is serious anxiety concerning the terrorist attacks, which require urgent attention and effective coordination.

Delhi Police (DP)

  • Strength: 83,740
  • Women: 5069
  • DP Budget: Rs. 2836.53 crore, 2010
  • Function: under Union Home Ministry
  • Governed under Delhi Police Act 1978
  • Police Reform: Proposed Amendment Bill 2010

Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT)

Modelled: On Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) of the US
Objective: To effectively tackle terrorist attacks and hostage crises.
History: The SWAT was created in 2009 in response to the 26/11/2008 attacks.
Strength: About 40 young recruits.
Training: In close combat and use of tactical assault weapons.
Guidance: Special Cell, Delhi Police

Commonwealth Games and the Challenge of Terrorism

The policing of the CWG will involve the extensive use of CCTVs and bomb disposal squads and, moreover, the deployment of police and paramilitary forces including National Security Guard (NSG) and Border Security Force (BSF) will add to the visibility factor. The quick reaction team, Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT), would be deployed to avert any attack. There will also be a special group assigned to respond to the nuclear, biological and chemical threats (NBC), along with a radiation control unit. Emergency care units and fire services will be always on alert mode. However, policing 5.6 million vehicles on a road network of 30,985 kms will be a tough task. The policing of the games will also involve providing security to athletes, team dignitaries, visitors and the physical control of the stadiums and hotels. Given the complexity of the situation the key aspect of policing and preventing any attack would be based on close communication, coordination and information sharing between the policing and intelligence agencies. Against this backdrop Delhi Police will be working with Interpol to access the database on criminals and terrorists as developed by the global policing agency.

Police has collaborated with market associations and RWAs to sensitise them on crisis management aspects in the case of terrorist attack. In the past popular markets like Sarojini Nagar Market, Khan Market, Lajpat Nagar and Connaught Place have been the target of the terrorists. The advisories issued in the last week of April 2010 by the High Commissions of the US, the UK, Canada and Australia have cautioned their respective citizens to avoid these market places. After the advisory was issued, Delhi Police Commissioner Y. S. Dadwal held a press conference saying that “the city is absolutely safe and ready for 2010 games.” Stressing that the Delhi Police was ‘totally prepared’, he contended that all necessary ‘arrangements are made’ to ensure the games goes ‘incident free’.

In the last week of May 2010 when media reported on the dysfunctional CCTVs and non-existence metal detectors in the major market places like Chandni Chowk and Paharganj it brought these major security lapses to wider public attention. These issues are too important to be left unattended. The deadlines to have the surveillance technology at the disposal of Delhi Police have not been met in many cases. For example the deadline to install CCTVs at 27 border points and in 59 market places of the city was 31 March 2010, but the work still was incomplete as reported in media in June 2010. Mr. Arun Bhagat and Mr. Ajai Raj Sharma both former commissioners of Delhi Police were asked by India Today to comment on the issue: Sharma cited bureaucratic bottlenecks as the reason and Bhagat was surprised that the government of India has not established any fast track system to clear the procurement hurdles given the urgency of the situation. The heavy rain last week that disturbed daily life in Delhi has also raised questions regarding the preparations for the games.

This multi-sport mega event is a crowd puller and its proper management is going to enhance India’s global reputation. The intelligence agencies have found that this event is a target for the Lashkar-e Toiba (LeT) and other terrorist outfits across the border and also some home-grown ones. Serial blasts on 13 September 2008 and the audacious 26/11 attacks on Mumbai had shown glaring loopholes in the security apparatus of the law enforcement agencies and exposed inadequate coordination between the police and intelligence agencies. It is expected that the lessons would have been learnt and a sense of urgency would be shown in future to compensate for the inadequacies in the system and that efficiency and more professionalism will be demonstrated this time. Unfortunately the Delhi Police’s effort to upgrade counter-terrorism capacity has been hampered by the official red-tapism in procuring high tech equipment like CCTVs and other detection devices. To add to this Delhi Police is understaffed and the around 6000 new recruits are under-trained. The infrastructure is not adequate to train such a huge number of recruits at one point of time. They would receive around three month training instead of standard nine month training and will be shouldering the responsibility of policing the Commonwealth Games. They will certainly add up to the visibility factor in the policing of the city but it remains a big question whether they will be able to respond in the face of a large-scale crisis such as a terrorist attack like that of 26/11.

Community Engagement in Policing Terrorism: The Eyes and Ears Scheme

The Eyes and Ears scheme was launched in January 2008 with the intention to collect/gather intelligence from local informants. This allowed virtually anyone in the public space to volunteer to act as the eyes and ears of the police in fighting terrorism. Though the focus was initially mainly on street vendors, cycle rickshaw pullers, auto drivers and rag-pickers, now it has expanded to include all those who are involved in a profession that involves interaction with common people, including domestic help providers, dairy booth operators, petrol pump workers and road side dhabas in the border regions etc. This has been claimed to have achieved greater success in a short period of two years and the Delhi Police has rewarded more than 400 people who have either provided information or assisted the police in investigations. However, the case of an eye-witness who saw two people planting bomb on 13 September 2008 shows that the police have not been very sensitive to the needs of some informants. A 14-year-old balloon seller, Rahul, who saw two persons planting bombs in a dustbin in Barakhamba Road, was reported to have not been paid his reward of Rs.50,000 as declared by the Delhi Police. The police have not treated him and his desperately poor family with utmost sensitivity and this probably reflects the need for more sensitivity training for the personnel who deal with the Eyes and Ears Scheme and especially for those policing terrorism. Police need to be trained to arouse respect in people and not fear. The involvement of policemen in recent cases of misbehaviour and sexual harassment of women is also not helpful in creating respect for the khaki in the capital.

As long as people fear the police and police does arbitrary law enforcement no community policing initiative can be successful in its objective and at best will remain ad hoc. As Dr. Tapan Chakraborty (2003), the author of Community Policing in Delhi, the only academic so far to have published a book on the topic, would agree that community policing in Delhi mostly remains solely leader based and once the leader is transferred in most cases the community policing initiatives are not followed. Police-Community Engagement (PCE) remains to be accepted as a philosophy and practice in the entire police force.

Whether it is a Kiran Bedi, the award-winning celebrity police officer, who has worked tirelessly to develop a more humane image of the police, or a Madhu Kishwar, a leading social activist in Delhi, who has fought on the street for the street vendors in Delhi, they all agree that the problem remains at the lower rung of the police hierarchy. Madhu Kishwar adds “the constables are poorly selected, poorly paid, poorly trained, poorly equipped and are denied even the basic amenities to perform their tasks with efficiency.” The beat policing are a welcome step to engage with the people, however, the question is whether the common person trusts the police or not.

Delhi Police Act (Amendment) Bill 2010
Key Features that will affect policing

  • Fixed Tenure:
  • Commissioner – 2 years
  • DCP, ACP and SHO – 1 year
  • Separation of Law and Order and Investigation duties
  • Social Responsibility:
  • Sensitive to women, children and senior citizens
  • Respectful for human rights with special attention to weaker sections
  • All possible assistance to victims of crime and ensure timely medical aid for the victims of accidents
  • Regular training to upgrade professional skills
  • People-friendly police stations
  • Appointment of SPOs

Special Police Officers – any able bodied person above 18 is eligible to become an SPO and will be deployed to protect life and property of those who need it. This requires further clarification on the privileges and powers of the SPOs.

  • Increase of fines on a range of items

Source: Ministry of Home Affairs, Govt. of India (www.mha.gov.in)

Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, while addressing the 150th year celebrations of Chennai Metropolitan police in 2007, envisioned the police to play a pivotal role in India’s transformation into a developed nation. He suggested that the police should be “friendly, corruption free, responsible, tolerant of ambiguity and pressure, must have compassion and sympathy for people. It should be efficient and stress tolerant, mentally and physically fit and robust, able to provide high quality leadership potential at all levels and be a model for conduct and discipline.” The government needs to look at all police reforms in this light, whether the reforms are designed to create a police force that will engage with the community that it polices and whether the police will accept itself as a part of the community. To invoke Sir Robert Peel, the father of modern policing “police are people, people are police.” Amongst others, community engagement is a top priority in counter-terrorism. If the police intends to fight terrorism with the help of the community it has to treat each person with respect and learn to serve the community interest by being a part of it and not by imposing its privileged and powerful position.

Structural changes, including increasing the salary and other benefits for policemen and women are definitely required steps to attract bright young people to join this department that serves in the interest of the larger community by providing them safety and security. Most importantly, the emphasis must also be in developing a sense of security in the people. This requires police engagement with the weaker and marginalised sections. The paramilitary policing model needs to be replaced with a more humane and community policing model in order to establish, restore and uphold social cohesion. The controversial Batla House Encounter, in which the Delhi Police killed two alleged terrorists in the Muslim locality of Jamia Nagar, has not helped in improving the image of the Delhi Police even though they lost a senior Special Cell officer in that shootout. The glaring omission of the important role of community trust in counter-terror policing is clearly evident. The Delhi Police needs to improve what Dr. Kiran Bedi terms its ‘trust quotient’ in the community through just behaviour and sustained engagement.

This requirement of change of policing style perhaps needs to be tackled at the level of policy making and in the designing of training modules for the police personnel including constables. An interfaith model of policing can be suggested for the entire policing department and especially for the elite Special Cell dealing with terrorism. While dealing with terrorism we cannot ignore the aspect of the growth of radicalism. Unless the police understand the process of radicalisation, it won’t be able to intervene and prevent it. Police has an important role to engage with diverse communities of faith, language and ethnicity to develop trust and command respect.

The home minister, Mr. Chidambaram has been talking about the police reforms by passing the buck to the state governments citing law and order as a state matter, but he won’t be able to say this in the case of Delhi Police which is directly under his supervision and control. To make Delhi Police a model police force, the reform must be directed towards improving the policing experience of the aam aadmi and aam aurat (common people). Only focusing on the institutional reforms in the areas of appointment, salary, promotion, housing, fines, etc., is not going to achieve this. In addition to this, the reform process equally and most importantly needs to emphasize ideological reforms that include the crucial aspect of training, so that the police is trained to treat people with respect. Given the challenges of community acceptance and the questions of trust and fear, the social responsibility section in the proposed bill 2010, which is the part of the ideological reform, is inadequate. It needs to be expanded. Given the large budgetary support, international attention and considerable success rate in dealing with crime by engaging communities through Parivartan and the Eyes and Ears scheme, the Delhi Police is well positioned to become a model police force in the country. For this the police-community engagement must be promoted as central to the philosophy and practice of policing in the national capital.

This paper has been revised and updated for South Asia Masala by additions of images and sources. The author thanks Prof Sandy Gordon of ANU for his useful comments on this and an earlier draft of this article.

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