Contours of organised crime

Published : Mar 30, 2002 00:00 IST

A new book effectively highlights the grave dimensions of the problem.

SEPTEMBER 11 was diabolical in many ways. Never was man's inhumanity to man so wicked and cruel. The modus operandus employed at the Twin Towers in New York was unique to the core. The number of victims there was possibly the largest ever for a single crime. More than these facts, however, what struck me as a former policeman was the extremely organised manner in which the whole crime was planned and executed. This was perfection at its worst!

All over the world organised crime has cast more than a shadow over day-to-day life. It is not mere greed or lust that any longer drives such crime. It is despicable religious fanaticism or political fascism that now provides the dynamite. The might of such negative power has diminished the police prowess so much that the common man wonders whether he has any defence at all. This was shamefully evident in the clinically well-organised Godhra arson and in the subsequent anti-Muslim riots. The Bombay blasts of 1993 - supposed to be a reprisal for Babri Masjid - was no different. How are we going to contend with such mind-shattering evil? Do we have the ability to understand the psychosis that powers Bin Laden, Dawood Ibrahim and their likes? If we do, is there a strategy to stamp out such downright criminality which masquerades as ideology-driven terrorism?

P.M. Nair's Combating Organised Crime (Konark Publishers, New Delhi, 2002; Rs.550) released recently may not provide all the answers. But this exceedingly well-written book by a professional policeman gives many insights into organised crime, as we know it today. It takes us inches closer to understanding the monster that induces undistilled fear in all of us. I find Nair's comprehensive survey - a compilation of nearly 500 pages packed with incontrovertible facts - so informative that I feel that all those who swear allegiance to civilised and orderly living should read and absorb the basic message that organised crime needs to be fought tooth and nail. This article is therefore deservedly devoted to it.

P.M. Nair, a distinguished police officer with a well-rounded career in the State Police and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) marked by several achievements, begins with a definition of 'organised crime'. The Interpol, the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of the U.S., the World Ministerial Conference against Organised Transnational Crime held in Naples in 1994 and the U.N. Convention against Transnational Organised Crime, all lay emphasis on "profits" as the primary motive for a group of persons, normally three or more, to come together to indulge in such criminal activity. In the context of the havoc that transnational terrorism has caused, such a definition appears to be, prima facie, too narrow and technical. I concede that financial gain does propel most organised criminal activity. Can we, however, ignore the now recognised tactic of profits generated by crime being diverted not for personal benefit but towards fomenting awesome violence in the furtherance of a political ideology or because of sheer religious bigotry? The Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act 1999 embodies "promoting insurgency" as one of the objectives of an organised crime syndicate. This makes sense to me. I would therefore opt for this definition that facilitates a broad study of a phenomenon that has become part of modern life.

It is against this backdrop that P.M Nair dissects organised political crime and its manifestations. Caste and inter-religious riots are not provoked only by anti-social elements who have no stake in social peace and stability. They are fomented also by members of political parties and religious sects who enjoy a station in life. Crimes such as homicide, rape and looting of property are normal on such occasions. All accounts of the recent Gujarat carnage unequivocally speak of this. P.M. Nair's analysis of what happens subsequent to such perversion by way of police action is so persuasive that I would like to quote him verbatim:

Investigation is seldom carried out impartially. At times the enforcement machinery is compelled to arrest and detain persons whose names are mentioned in the FIR, even without verifying whether they are genuinely involved or not. The media hype and the political turbulence caused by massacres influence the law enforcement agency to "manufacture" results by way of arrest and detention of maximum number of persons. In the process, innocent people get arrested and detained, which only complicates the situation further.

Seasoned policemen will find it hard to rebut P.M. Nair's indictment of investigating agencies. Judicial inquiries, ordered mainly to appease public opinion rather than in the pursuit of truth, are by their very nature prolonged, and they hardly unravel the hands that are behind organised violence. They also do not come out with any great prescription on how to cope with such crimes in the future. Any detection and deterrence will therefore have to come solely from speedy police action to nab the real culprits and get them convicted by courts after letting in convincing evidence. In the Indian situation, this is asking for the moon.

The Bombay blasts cases of 1993 are still languishing in court for a variety of reasons. If this is the fate of the most dastardly crime in the post-Independence era, I would leave it to your imagination the plight of lesser ones. The common man's faith in the criminal justice system is rightly dissolving fast. It is this unfortunate situation that influences many citizens to believe that organised crime, instead of declining, will actually flourish in the days to come, unless there are radical reforms to the whole system. Tinkering merely with the way the police go about their jobs is not going to take us very far.

The subject of money laundering receives extensive attention from P.M. Nair. Fresh interest in the subject has been generated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation's post-September 11 initiatives. The Bureau was quick to collect evidence suggesting that remittances to certain charitable organisations had possibly been siphoned off to the Al Qaeda for perpetrating its crimes on American soil.

A few measures have since been taken internationally to tighten the procedure for transfer of funds, considering instances which are suspicious and inexplicable but pass off as routine monetary transactions. Here, we have to take cognisance also of the native term 'hawala' that has come to be synonymous with the most confidential, quick and cost-effective method of transferring huge sums of money across continents, circumventing the normal banking channels. Several investigations have proved that hawala is not an innocent and a mere commercial exchange of one currency for another at the instance of a customer wanting to beat the foreign exchange regulations of a country. Terrorists have taken advantage of this easy route to come by money that is needed for their operations.

We have therefore to contend with two modus operandi - one bank-based and the other that skirts banking - which could be employed to acquire funds for committing a crime that has implications for national security. P.M. Nair devotes a whole chapter to the threat that organised crime poses to the safety of the state. Any slackness, therefore, in tackling this organised effort to hoodwink taxation and bank authorities is fraught with serious consequences.

We have no doubt a few enactments such as the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) 1999, the Income-Tax Act 1961 and the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act 1985 which obliquely concern themselves with the problem. The absence of a specific piece of legislation devoted to countering the growing menace of free flow of 'dirty money' is a matter for concern. The Money Laundering Bill introduced in Parliament in August 1998 is yet to pass muster. This is likely to receive adverse attention among countries that already have stern statutes in place.

Organised trafficking in human beings, particularly of women and children, is a worldwide phenomenon. Forcing women into prostitution and using children in pornography are a profitable game for the underworld. As in the case of AIDS, we know that such practices are widely prevalent in our country. But there is a general reluctance to admit that these have assumed proportions which could cause anxiety. There are powerful forces behind the trade and these have hidden behind loopholes in the existing law. Media expose of the evil has also been limited. Police forces have not much of a clue on how to put this down. P.M. Nair advocates a victim-centred strategy. I endorse this strongly because it is only explicit empathy with the victim that will encourage freer reporting of crime. At present, the level of reporting is shockingly low.

There are a number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that are well informed and active in the area of countering abuse of women and children. But some of them are incensed over police reluctance to indent on their services to bust rackets. One reason for the police inhibition is misgivings over the bona fides of some NGOs that have come to notice for misuse of funds. I wonder whether a sweeping bias is in order, especially when we know that some NGOs have done remarkable work in the field.

The problem of bringing down corruption in the public service has been debated ad nauseam without much of an impact. While individual deviance is bad enough, when the crime takes on an organised form there is a need to ring the alarm bell. We have had any number of cases which have brought us notoriety. The fodder scam in Bihar is only one example of how government treasuries can be looted without any fear of the law. Many of the cases registered in this connection showed a high degree of concert among hundreds of public servants. While only strict administrative supervision can help prevent a repetition of Bihar, more important is the task of training investigators to go to the bottom of such scandals and present an irrefutable case in court. Investigation involves requisitioning the services of experts in the area of income tax and allied disciplines. The CBI has shown some refreshing innovation in handling such cases and has projected a model worthy of emulation by State Police agencies.

Is it possible to predict what shape organised crime will take in the future? P.M. Nair is rightly apprehensive of the growing cleverness of the mafia groups. The substantial resort to technology by criminal gangs shows that they will use more and more of it in a variety of ways. The use of misguided experts, who are impelled by greed to aid such adventure, cannot be ruled out. If we have to match their genius, police forces in India will have to be extremely technology-savvy. The use of cellphones - even from within jails - has already introduced complications to the task of criminal investigation. The growing sophistication of similar devices is a factor that has to be taken into account while training investigators. The latter cannot lag behind the mind-boggling developments in technology. Any aversion to adapting themselves to this phenomenon will spell doom for policemen entrusted with crucial investigations.

Battling organised crime is an exciting game that demands the sharpest mind and the quickest wit. Time alone will tell whether India will produce, through clinical selection and hard training, enough number of investigators who possess these qualities so that things do not go out of control.

P.M. Nair makes a significant contribution by highlighting the grave dimensions of a problem that has not received the attention it deserves from many of our legislators and law enforcers. Combating Organised Crime provides enough material for them to easily assimilate and educate themselves.

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