People-friendly force

Print edition : August 27, 2010

Acharya: We are trying to provide accessible administration.-V. SREENIVASA MURTHY

Interview with Karnataka Home Minister V.S. Acharya.

EVER since May 2008, when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government headed by B.S. Yeddyurappa took over in Karnataka, State Home Minister Vedavyas Srinivas Acharya has found himself in the limelight. Whether it be issues pertaining to the activities of fringe elements in the Sangh Parivar, or ensuring the stability of the BJP government, or effectively countering the opposition, Acharya has had his hands full. Excerpts from an interview he gave Frontline on building a strong police force and modernising the department.

The general impression is that it is not easy to get a complaint registered in a police station.

In order to help people to get their cases registered, we have taken a number of initiatives in the past one and a half years. A toll-free telephone number [1800 4250 100] manned by a police sub-inspector has been opened in the Office of the Director General of Police and Inspector General of Police (DGP&IGP) to receive complaints round the clock from anywhere in Karnataka. Once the complaint is received, the matter is taken up with the police station or the superintendent of police or the deputy commissioner of police concerned for further action. Boards have been put up in front of all the police stations notifying the office, residence and mobile telephone numbers of the station house officer. They also have the telephone numbers of the circle inspector of police and the sub-divisional police officer, besides the toll-free number. People can contact any of these officers in case their complaints are not addressed properly. Also, in every district headquarter, an advertisement board has been put up at a prominent spot disclosing the telephone numbers office, residence and mobile of the additional superintendent of police, S.P. and the DGP&IGP's toll-free number.

In the offices of all the S.Ps and DCPs in the police commissionerates, a desk, manned by a sub-inspector, has been set up to receive complaints. A computer-generated acknowledgement is given forthwith and the complaint is put up before the S.P./DCP concerned for further action under Section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

People also complain about the general behaviour of the police and their perfunctory methods.

In 2009, we conducted 29 courses and trained 532 officers of the rank of assistant sub-inspector and inspector in soft skills. In the current year, we have extended this three-day training to constables and head constables. We have already conducted 61 courses and trained 1,118 police officers. During the last year and a half, in all districts and police commissionerates at least two courses of five days each were conducted every month for head constables, assistant sub-inspectors and sub-inspectors to upgrade their investigation skills. Again, for the first time in India we are conducting courses for officers of the rank of sub-inspectors, inspectors, DSPs and S.Ps through the Outward Bound Learning process, which helps in introspection, self-appraisal, team-building, forming innovative ideas, and developing leadership qualities. The government has sanctioned more than Rs.40 lakh for this purpose in 2010.

Karnataka sends senior police officers of the rank of deputy inspector general, inspector general and additional director general of police for courses conducted by the Indian Institute of Management and the Administrative Staff College. In all these training programmes, the police personnel are taught how to conduct themselves with specific reference to their relationship with the public.

Are there any other public-centric initiatives by your government?

There are a few others. Normally, after police recover stolen property, it takes a long time for the same to reach the complainants. We found that in the past 10 years the annual return of recovered property was between 35 and 40 per cent. In 2009, we approached the courts with the help of complainants and succeeded in getting orders for the early return of such property. Once in three months, on an appointed day, a special programme is held in all the districts and police commissionerates to return stolen property. In 2009, the State's average of return of stolen property went up to about 65 per cent and the police returned property worth about Rs.55 crore to complainants. In the first three months of 2010, property worth more than Rs.50 crore was returned.

Also, many a time people approach us saying that the police have not taken action on their complaints. But our cursory checks with the police have showed that often action has been initiated and good progress made, but the complainants have not been informed about it. Therefore, in all police stations, on the third Sunday of every month, complainants are called to the station and the status of their case is discussed.

What about corruption?

I must admit that the Police Department is not free from it. It is a difficult and complex phenomenon. We have tried to create a conducive environment in which the police are not compelled to take recourse to unethical methods. For the first time in India, the government has created a separate head of account within the police budget and has provided a sum of Rs.20 crore to defray the cost of investigations. Investigations incur expenditure, but what the investigating officer can claim under the existing rules is only travelling allowance and daily allowance. This covers only about 30 per cent of the actual expenditure incurred. Under our scheme, an investigating officer can claim expenditure incurred, provided the expenditure is certified to be genuine by his/her supervisory officers. Also, the Rs.1,000 a month given to all police stations for sundry expenses has been raised to Rs.3,000.

In 2009, we raised the financial powers of policemen of various ranks. Karnataka is perhaps the only State where the head of the police force is authorised to permit any police officer of any rank to travel by air if required.

We found that police personnel of the lower ranks, such as constables, head constables, assistant sub-inspectors and inspectors, do not get even a day off in a week and were paid Rs.50 in lieu of their weekly off. We have raised this to Rs.100. The DGP&IGP has also been persuading unit officers to allow lower subordinates a day off in a week. Many constables do not get a promotion even after putting in 25 years of service. We have ordered the automatic promotion of all police constables who have completed 18 years of satisfactory service.

What about rewards?

Annual rewards at the district and State level were introduced in 2009. We now have rewards for best detection, best return of property to the complainants, most effective and innovative initiative to maintain law and order and communal harmony, most effective and innovative initiative for the prevention and detection of property offences, most effective and innovative initiative for good public interface, and best traffic management. Each reward carries a sum of Rs.20,000, a shield and a certificate.

The beat system is said to be the backbone of policing in India. But this system has almost become defunct.

It is true that because of paucity of staff, police stations are not in a position to serve beats as required. We have sanctioned more than thousand police constable and sub-inspectors posts. But there will always be a gap between the need and the projected requirement. We have introduced the revised police beat system. The jurisdiction of a police station is to be divided into a number of beats, with all personnel, including constables, head constables and assistant sub-inspectors, performing beat duties. In each beat, about 50 respected citizens are identified to be contacted by the constables and head constables on a regular basis.

Is Karnataka considered naxal-affected?

The previous as well as the present government have asked the Centre to treat the State as naxal-affected. But it has turned down our request. However, naxalite activities have been noticed in certain parts of Karnataka, particularly in Uttara Kannada, Shimoga, Chikmagalur, Udupi and Dakshina Kannada districts. We have deployed our own specialised Anti-Naxal Force, and established police stations in the area. We are also trying to provide a more accessible and responsible administration in these areas. In 2009 no incident [of killings by naxalites] took place.

Is the government prepared to tackle terrorist threats?

We have created quick reaction teams [QRTs] in big cities and in district headquarters. We have QRTs in the Karnataka State Reserve Police battalions. We work closely with the para commandos stationed in Bangalore in lieu of the National Security Guard. We have sanctioned a separate Internal Security Division under an additional DGP to deal exclusively with this problem.

What about Karnataka's coastline?

We have opened five police stations for coastal security. We have procured five boats for sea patrolling, besides night-vision binoculars, thermal imager binoculars and other sophisticated equipment for the Coastal Security Police.

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