An unsettling picture

Print edition : August 01, 1998

A Home Ministry report presents a grim picture of the law and order situation in the country.

THE Union Home Ministry's report to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs presents an alarming picture of the country's internal security situation. Simply put, it states that roughly half of the country's 535 districts are facing unrest and 210 districts are "affected by one crisis or the other". A variety of factors have been specified as causing the unrest. They include communal violence, insurgency, left-wing extremism and ethnic conflicts.

The report is significant in many ways. First, it highlights the decline in the security climate. Secondly, it shows that in spite of playing the role of "Big Brother" in recent times, the Central Government has not been able to respond positively to the demands from various States for help to meet the challenges to internal security. Thirdly, it points out that the management of border security in insurgency-prone States leaves a lot to be desired. The report also establishes that despite the Home Ministry's attempts to present Opposition-ruled States as areas where the law and order situation has collapsed, the deterioration is widespread and covers Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled States such as Uttar Pradesh. Interestingly, West Bengal, ruled by the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front, does not figure in the list of problem areas, although the Centre had sent a Home Ministry team to probe the "collapse of law and order" in that State.

The States that have been most affected by law and order problems, the report says, are Jammu and Kashmir, Assam, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and northeastern States such as Nagaland and Manipur. The situation in Delhi and Tamil Nadu has also been described as disturbing.

According to the report, 10 out of the 14 districts in Jammu and Kashmir have been affected by militancy and 48 out of the 69 districts in northeastern India witness violence on a regular basis either because of insurgency or because of ethnic conflicts.

The problem in Uttar Pradesh, the Home Ministry overview states, is the rise in the incidence of communal violence. The reference is to the communal clashes that took place in the past six months in Moradabad and Old Lucknow. The cause of concern in Bihar is the increase in the incidence of organised crime by militant groups, including private armies and left-wing extremists. More than 200 people, including prominent political leaders, fell victim to their criminal activities in the recent past.

Three factors have been mentioned as contributing to the tense situation in Tamil Nadu: the continuing influence of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the growth of Muslim fundamentalist organisations, and caste clashes.

In a special reference to Delhi, the Home Ministry said that the series of bomb blasts in the recent past and the expansion of the activities of anti-social elements have added a new dimension to the law and order situation. The Parliamentary Committee, apparently responding to this observation as well as to the deposition of Delhi's Commissioner of Police before it, noted that the "present strength of personnel in Delhi Police is not adequate to cater to the need of effectively and efficiently managing the law and order and security duties in the capital." The Committee also remarked that it was imperative to initiate action immediately to raise the strength of the Delhi Police.

The report stated that along with the rise in the number of disturbed districts, there was an increase in the demand to deploy Central paramilitary forces. Commenting on this trend, the Parliamentary Committee said that "the supply of central paramilitary forces to the States was not commensurate with the demands of the States." It also pointed out that the deployment of the Border Security Force (BSF) was not satisfactory in many insurgency-prone States. "The existing deployment has left huge gaps, as a result of which the movement of extremists across the border is taking place very easily." The Committee expressed the view that the deployment of the BSF needed to be reviewed.

Amidst a plethora of references to the worsening of internal security, the Home Ministry lists a few areas that have recorded improvement. According to it, the situation in Punjab has improved considerably. The report suggests that even in terms of border security, Punjab is better off than other States that are contiguous to the international border. Similarly, the situation in Mizoram and Meghalaya is better than that in the other States in the northeastern region.

Besides suggesting that the response from the Home Ministry to the demands of State governments should improve and be more appropriate, the Committee stated that the Centre should take steps to implement the National Police Commission's (NPC) recommendations. It pointed out that the replies of the Government to queries on action taken on the NPC's directions are "too general and vague". The Committee said that the Government should prepare lists of recommendations that had been implemented by the States and Union Territories, that were pending with them, and that had been found to be impossible to implement. Pranab Mukherjee, Chairman of the Committee, told Frontline that only after studying these could the implementation of the NPC's recommendations be taken up constructively.

He said that the Committee's study of the report underlined the need to improve the security and policing machinery with special emphasis on trouble-prone areas such as Jammu and Kashmir, northeastern India, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Delhi. It also emphasised the need for better coordination among the Centre and the State governments on this front.

However, several Opposition members of Parliament were of the view that a report of this kind could become an instrument of domination in the hands of the BJP. According to former Internal Security Minister, Rajesh Pilot, "given its ideology which militates against decentralisation of power, the BJP could use a report like this to bypass State governments and interfere in the law and order machinery in the States."

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