Karnataka

Constables’ woes

Print edition : July 08, 2016

Constable aspirants during a recruitment drive in Mysuru in 2014. Photo: M.A. SRIRAM

THE call to the 80,000-strong police constabulary in Karnataka to go on a day’s leave on June 4 to highlight their poor working conditions and low salaries (starting pay of Rs.11,600 a month) was an act of defiance that was a long time coming.

Although the government nipped the planned protest in the bud, the fact is that the resentment among the police force has its roots in real issues. The self-styled leader of the organisation that called for the protest, Shashidhar Venugopal, a constable who was dismissed from service in the late 1980s, was arrested on June 2 and booked under charges that included inciting a “sepoy mutiny” and sedition.

The government’s move to invoke the provisions of the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) against the planned protest and the announcement that constables would be evicted from their residential quarters if their family members participated in the protest seemed to have stopped the constabulary in its tracks. Many senior officers welcomed the withdrawal of the protest. It was not a well-thought-out strategy, they felt.

Though the protest fizzled out, the massive build-up and the fact that it could have even been contemplated caught the government and the upper echelons of the police force unawares. On the morning of June 4, the fear among the top brass in the police department was palpable, with senior officials, including deputy commissioners of police, even visiting police stations in their jurisdiction to ensure that no constable from their staff participated in the strike. It was only after police stations across the State recorded hundred per cent attendance that the entire State machinery, including the Chief Minister and the Home Minister, heaved a collective sigh of relief.

However, the threat of protest achieved the objective of forcing the government to take note of the plight of the constabulary. Home Minister G. Parameshwara announced that within the next 45 days his department, in consultation with the Chief Minister, would “consider” the 30-odd demands of the Police Welfare Association , including those with financial implications.

One of the issues the government should be looking at is the filling up of 15,000 vacant posts for civil police constables. The Minister told this correspondent that “the government was aware of the plight of police constables” and that it “would implement the demands in a time-bound manner”.

Constables are inarguably the least paid, most overworked and the most neglected cog in the police department. They work 13 to 15 hours a day on an average and in most cases without even a weekly day off as it is cancelled at the slightest hint of emergency work. (The compensation for working on an off day is Rs.200). They are also dispatched as orderlies to senior officers. As a result of all this, the divide between officers and constables has widened and camaraderie, an essential ingredient of any uniformed force, is strikingly low.

An added issue is the fact that though the minimum qualification for appointment as constable is Class 12, a large (25 per cent according to officials in the Home department) number of graduates, including engineers, and even postgraduates have enrolled as constables in the past decade, lured by the tag of a government job but disillusioned soon by the nature of the work. Resentment is naturally high, especially among the new recruits. But the government has been oblivious of the changing profile of the constabulary.

The shortage of residential quarters is also an important issue. There is an acute shortage, especially in the urban areas, with hardly 25 per cent of the constabulary being allotted accommodation. Those who have accommodation complain about the quality of the houses, many of which, they say, are in such a dilapidated condition that they could collapse any moment.

Constables are also critical of the system of orderlies. While most uniformed services around the world have a system of orderlies for officers, the police hierarchy seems to have stretched it beyond belief. Many senior officers, it is said, have a dozen or more constables as orderlies, many of whom are assigned work they are not meant to do. Constables when assigned as orderlies are meant to be the officer’s personal assistants, but it gets nasty when they become “ball boys” at tennis courts or when they have to wait on and drop the officer’s children at school, walk the family dog, do the grocery shopping, take memsahib on her errands, and in some instances wash utensils and the family’s clothes.

Officers insist that orderlies are a necessity. Said a senior officer: “A police officer is on duty 24x7, including when he is at home. Besides the security aspect, you need an orderly to answer phone calls, polish the officer’s shoes, as a driver, to receive official documents, and so on. You cannot expect the officer’s family members to do these jobs. If someone misuses an orderly, identify, isolate and punish him for professional misconduct. Structures are defined, but anomalies happen.”

According to the police department, around 50 constables are at present on orderly duty. But the number, according to insiders, is twice that, orderlies who can be freed up for normal civil policing. According to a Deputy Commissioner of Police, a typical police station in Bengaluru is authorised around 70 constables, but with 20 vacancies being a recurring feature, 50 is the number they have to make do with. Of them, four could be on leave. In any given shift, 23 constables are on duty. Of them, 10 are assigned essential duties in the station, leaving 13 to answer 20 distress calls an hour on an average. Constables are also not reimbursed the official telephone calls (20 to 30 a day) they make (walkie-talkies not being feasible in some instances) or the petrol they use while on night patrols or on their own two-wheelers. Said a constable: “Officers have at least three or four official vehicles at their disposal and misuse them for their personal work. But we have to pay from our pockets for fuel.” Added another: “Let the government at least give us good quality raincoats. We can’t expect anything else.”

Ravi Sharma

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