‘The scale of violence was shocking’

Print edition : July 08, 2016

Parkash Singh, chairman of the inquiry committee into Jat reservation agitation. Photo: AKHILESH KUMAR

Interview with Prakash Singh, former DGP of Uttar Pradesh.

ON February 25, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government in Haryana appointed a one-man committee to inquire into the violent protests for reservation in government jobs and education by members of the Jat community in the State. Prakash Singh, former Director-General of Police (DGP), Uttar Pradesh, and one of the petitioners in a case on police reforms, was chosen to head the probe.

The 415-page report submitted by the committee has indicted several bureaucrats and police officials and, as a result, Prakash Singh has come under attack from the State bureaucracy and BJP legislators. Excerpts from an interview he gave Frontline:

Were you able to complete the inquiry as per the mandate?

The mandate was limited to the lapses by administrative and police officers. We toured all the eight districts of the State. We were able to fulfil more than the mandate. The report has caused a commotion, with politicians jumping to defend their favourite officers. It is not that they disagree with the findings but they are voicing the resentment of the officials. The officers have their own political godfathers. One BJP Member of Parliament was the most aggressive in his anti-Jat references. The community he represents is influential. He did a lot of damage but the BJP government preferred to ignore it. His speeches have been recorded.

Would you say that the political leaders conducted themselves responsibly?

My mandate was not to look into that. I have not covered the political aspect, but in Chapter 4, the speeches of political leaders have been covered. The officers did not discharge their responsibilities. There were different degrees of involvement and collusion, some were partially involved, some turned a Nelson’s eye to the violence, some abetted it and some egged on the protesters.

The second part of the report deals with the “role of intelligence” and it is classified.

One did not require intelligence to see how the agitation was building up and what was likely to happen. It was all there in the newspapers. It was so evident. There was no clandestine planning. There were groups trying to outsmart one another. The question of intelligence failure does not arise. Intelligence failure comes if one is dealing with the Lashkar-e-Taiba [LeT] and Maoist groups.

Has the government accepted your report?

If you are thinking in terms of an open declaration, I will not say so. But considering that the government has taken action by suspending Station House Officers [SHOs] and DSPs, it amounts to acceptance.

As a former DGP, what is your view on the scale of violence?

The scale of violence was shocking. For some reason, the media have not covered all the details of the violence. It was horrific. I don’t think even terrorists have inflicted such damage in the past 10 years. I asked the State government. It gave me no official estimates of the damage. Media reports say that the damage to property was to the tune of Rs.20,000 crore. Establishments were completely burned down. Libraries, schools and school buses were set on fire. This kind of systematic targeting of people was a painful sight.

Why did your committee not look into the alleged gang-rape incidents at Murthal?

We avoided going into it. We were told that there was a special investigation team set up for the purpose and its work was being monitored by the High Court. So we stayed clear of the alleged incident of gang rape. I don’t think there has been much progress on that case. Something did go horribly wrong but neither the witnesses nor the victims are coming forward.

How do you see the administration’s diffidence? According to your report, the violence was allowed to escalate.

In the absence of leadership and directions, the violence escalated. There is a general impression that if you take action, you might be blamed. Caste bias was also a factor. I have faulted both the Home Department and the officers under the DGP. The Home Department could not show me even one page of directions given to the districts. I have never seen such an inactive Home Department in an hour of crisis. Neither the DGP nor the ADGP (Law and Order) visited a single affected district. Officers in the field were without a leader to give them directions. In Rohtak, the Inspector General collapsed. He developed some kind of fear that people were out to kill him. So he locked himself up in his residence and his premises were protected by one company of the Border Security Force [BSF] and 300 policemen. We found the District Collector of Jhajjar to be the most non-performing official. She was not seen during any of the major incidents of crime. Her response was that she had delegated the duty to the Additional District Magistrate [ADM] in writing. We gave her adequate time to explain her viewpoint. Jhajjar was the second worst affected district. I have shown no bias. I gave an oral recommendation to the Chief Minister that the DGP must go before the report came out. He was a non-performing DGP. Almost five IPS and five IAS officers have been indicted. We singled out for praise officers of the magistracy and police officers.

In my long career as a police person, I have not seen such dereliction of duty. In one district, the SP, the DSP, and the Army were there and they allowed two groups to clash. In Gohana, rioters were given a free run to indulge in loot and rampage for six hours. At the end of it, the police and other officials said, Bahut ho gaya, ab jao (we gave you enough time to loot, now go). The national highway was blocked for more than 30 hours in Panipat. I can’t imagine the national highway being blocked for even half an hour. The Munak canal in Sonepat was breached despite clear directions from the Cabinet Secretary, and water supply to Delhi was disrupted. We have to de-politicise the police and insulate them from political interference. In Haryana, no regular procedures of recruitment are followed. Caste plays a role in recruitment. Even in States such as Uttar Pradesh, things are terrible, but Haryana is treated like real estate.

What do you have to say about the deployment of the Army?

The deployment of the Army was excessive. It was not utilised properly. Seventy-four columns were deployed at the peak of the violence. One Army column consists of roughly 75 men. Twelve battalions are enough to ward off an attack from Pakistan in one sector. What were they doing? There was no need for the Army. The BSF was also not needed as it does not have anti-riot equipment. I have pointed out that only the Rapid Action Force [RAF] was needed, supplemented by armed police battalions from neighbouring States. They would have been much more effective. An armed police unit from another State has no local constraint and works much more effectively and objectively. The Haryana Police is one of the best in terms of toughness but politicisation has ruined the force. The police have no training, no motivation, no leadership.

Some strong words have been used against your report.

There is an organised attempt to discredit the report for the simple reason that a number of officials have been indicted. Once the report is discredited they have a better chance of escaping punishment. I cannot recall any report in recent times in which such a large number of officers have been named. The Justice Vishnu Sahai report on the Muzaffarnagar riots found only two persons guilty. I am disappointed with the government. It appointed me to conduct the inquiry; it should defend and uphold its sanctity. All kinds of officers are making statements. Some piecemeal action was taken… now there is silence.There was no grey area. The law is clear. The law gives powers to deal with such situations. Why are directions needed from the top? Maybe the political leadership could have done better. A judicial commission has been set up. It will come up with its inquiry report.