Friday, April 22, 2016

As A Police Officer, Shaktiman Was Let Down

I am not sure if Shaktiman, our brave, handsome white horse of the Uttarakhand Mounted Police, had leg guards on when he was on duty when his leg was thrashed and he fell down and injured himself. 

We do not have proven evidence of what happened. The visuals are indicative but not conclusive. How the injury was caused is a matter of police investigation. The person suspected, a politician, was arrested and is currently on bail. He continues to deny he hit Shaktiman. 

We do not know the truth. We only have a gut feeling! 

But my question is: was Shaktiman, our brave mount, whom Maneka Gandhi addressed also as a police officer on duty, protected both on his face and legs to protect from getting hit or injured in case of stone-throwing? This is what mounted police gets in many countries - due protection.
If that was not done, then it was inadequate preparation for mounted police to be deployed to maintain law and order in such a volatile situation. 

Mounted Police has a distinct advantage when positioned correctly. It gives a higher visibility and allows walking on tracks which are not road-worthy. It's very good for patrolling, can walk inside parks, on beaches, in small lanes, or on undulating surfaces. But when crowds need to be dispersed, I am not sure we should use horses. It can hurt both people and horses.

For dispersal of crowds, we have better options. We have trained personnel for riot control who are reasonably protected with riot gear. We have tear gas shells. We have water canons. We have rubber bullets too, though these are rarely used. 

Mounted police is at risk when it is unguarded (face and lower limbs) as perhaps Shaktiman was, in a lawless, stone-throwing situation where even cops were hit.
I think it's time to restrict the deployment of Mounted Police where it can serve us as best such as ceremonials, patrolling the streets, small lanes, rural areas, and, of course, for visibility and confidence-building.  

Shaktiman's case also compels us to have a fresh look at our law...(sic!) The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960. 

It's a shame that it has not been updated till now. 

Section 11 of the said Act says, ''If any person beats, kicks, overdrives, tortures, so as to subject it to unnecessary pain or suffering or causes, or being the owner to be so...Shall be punishable in case of a first offence with fine which shall be not less than ten rupees, but which may extend to fifty rupees and in the case of second or subsequent offence committed within three years of the previous offence with fine and shall not be less than twenty five rupees but which may extend to one hundred rupees or with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three months or with both."

If our state assemblies and parliament do not legislate to keep up with the times, who does one complain to? Shaktiman's case also shames the legislatures to correct the law.

The Animal Board can also recommend appropriate changes (these may already be pending, who knows) to make the law effective, deterrent and respectable.

For now, the accused who has been arrested for cruelty to Shaktiman, if found guilty, will pay Rs. 10, maximum Rs. 50, since it may be his first offence. But the cost of his investigation and trial may run into thousands when measured against the time and effort invested by criminal justice system.

Besides the loss of majestic mount akin to a cop on law and order duty..the less said the better!
My own version of Shaktiman was Chandni, my 6-year-old horse who trained with me for nearly a year at the Police Training Academy in Mount Abu. We had riding classes every day and not once did she let me fall. Chandni was a very beautiful, well-behaved horse and there was a lot of mutual respect.

Kiran Bedi is the first woman to have joined officer ranks of Indian Police Service. Recipient of Magsaysay Award (1994) for police and prison reforms, she has also worked as a UN police advisor. A tennis champion, she earned a PhD from IIT Delhi and is a Nehru Fellow. She's founded many NGOs and is the author of several books.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Ensuring right to life and security

Just because we in India are more than a billion people does not mean we let people die in blazes, collapsed bridges, stampedes, floods, riots or even while crossing the road. Life in that case will be highly unsafe.
Insecurity breeds fear that affects human development and creativity. The biggest hallmark of civilisation has been the guarantee of human security. Or else what is the difference between earlier jungle living and now urban setting? What is the point in living in gated communities, but once out of them being vulnerable to all kinds of risks? The key to ensuring safety and security is respecting and adhering to laws made by mankind. Right to life and security is our basic need.
To provide this basic right, a country secures its borders from external invasions. Alert soldiers ward off enemies from any intrusions even if it is at the cost of their lives. That is why we daily hear of brave encounters. Brave men and women in uniform keep awake so that we are not invaded. They protect our geographical boundaries. It is because of them that we sleep in peace.
Internal security
But what about internal security? Who are its soldiers? They are both in uniform and in plain clothes. They are the civil administration. They are specially selected, elected and appointed by people. If they fulfil their responsibilities honestly and sincerely and without fear or favour, people enjoy internal safety and security. It’s when they fail that people die in fire blazes, on roads, in floods or in other manmade disasters.
Internal security keepers must consider themselves akin to soldiers on the borders, envisioning what would happen if they fail their countrymen? We will be overrun by marauders who will come and exploit our vulnerable sections, rob us of our wealth and resources, enslave us and perhaps kill us too. Just as we expect our soldiers on the borders to secure our borders without being reminded to, we expect the local administration to be civil soldiers within, protecting and ensuring our internal safety.
Police, civil servants, elected or nominated or selected representatives are internal soldiers, whose duty is to guarantee internal security by doing their duty without fear or favour. Anyone coming in the way is the enemy of society and has to be dealt with as per laws.
Rules flouted
Had rules been followed, we would not have lost over a hundred lives at the Kerala temple with hundreds suffering from burns. It has left behind orphaned children and grieving families. If the district administration had denied permission to the temple authorities for fireworks, it was also their duty to prevent its violation by courageous enforcement. They failed in their duty to protect people as internal soldiers, which is a criminal breach of trust.
All manmade tragedies have a few common factors: Neglect of one’s duty, callous behaviour towards others’ safety, greed or highly selfish motives behind neglect, showing off of one’s pelf, power or position, taking risk at others’ cost and indifference to others’ suffering.
We, the billion-plus people, need to be a better humanity with a better sense of responsibility. We should have an enhanced consciousness towards our duties. We should respect human rights and live our lives for a higher purpose. We have got human life to do good, and not to injure and destroy others. Let’s be trustworthy civil soldiers to serve humanity, and protect our people with the same courage and patriotism with which our armed forces protect our borders.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Had predicted Kolkata flyover collapse, writes Kiran Bedi

I had anticipated the collapse of the Kolkata flyover on one of the recent visits to the city and asked it on Twitter who was in charge of this ghost structure. Left unattended for years, the rusting, concrete juggernaut without a workman near it was just waiting to cave in. It had to take lives to let the world know it was dying.
Cases would be registered and a few company officials arrested but no one would say a word about the other public servants (political or non-political) responsible for the oversight. We’ll hear public statements that they will spare no culprit and compensate the families of the victims. Then politicians will descend on the scene. It has become a predictable drill.
When under pressure, politicians wait for the next disaster or the public memory to fade. In our subcontinent, disasters occur too frequently for the general public to keep track of all. They who must be held accountable will never be.
Bureaucrats first
The clean-up should start with the public works department, from the lowest secretary to the highest bureaucrat. It was their duty to oversee the work, clear the bills, do regular site inspection, audit/test the material, and ensure that safety standards were followed. How many times since 2008 did they review the project? We do not know, nor will we get to know, unless we file an RTI. It will be months before we get the information, which will be incomplete and not of much help.
Files will show where the matter was kept pending at the administrative and political levels. The construction company went bankrupt within a year of the project, so blame will be shifted to it, without transparency and accountability, even though many politicians also deserve to go to jail over this.
Leaders retract
Can the area legislator and MP be held accountable? I heard the MP say on television that monitoring the rusting flyover was not his job. The Trinamool MP of Kolkata North said that by the time the flaws had come to his notice, 60% of the work had been over. He forgot what he owed to his voters. Did they pick him or his party? No one knows. No one can ask. No one will reply.
What about CM’s accountability?
As CEO her government, is West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee not supposed to review the progress of pending projects for public safety? But she said on TV that her predecessors had awarded the contract and it is they who should be asked why they had hired a blacklisted company.
Information in the public domain suggests that she knew the company was untrustworthy. The question is who will dare to ask her what her government had been doing for almost five years? No one can. She has already put the blame o the company and washed her hands off it.
Opposition not innocent either
How about the Opposition parties who also seek votes? Did they protest to seek time-bound completion of the project? If they did, when and to what effect? Did they persevere, or gave up? They can say it’s best to protest when the structure has collapsed, not when it is collapsing. Imagine the votes the tragedy will get them. They say the Opposition’s accountability is never certain; tell them so is the case with public vote.
Public guilty, too?
Cities have their media and citizen groups for taking up causes. Did they find out what the government was up to? I fear they, too, will turn around and say: “O’ please, we do only campaigns like marathons, environment runs, save the tiger, school charity (that don’t question the government).”
It’s not safe for the local media to ask the government uncomfortable questions. Then who will? Who killed the people?
The hand of God?
Did the voter under the bridge not have the duty to exercise safety? Was it the hand of God, as a company executive said, as another man on TV said: “The state anyway is run by God.” Since God is neither visible not accessible, how do we make God accountable? But the case should not be closed. The challenge is to fix responsibility.
@SivadasTV2, who follows me on Twitter, had the following suggestion. I think it’s worth considering. “Pass a law requiring all elected representatives to file a monthly intelligence report on illegal activities in their constituencies.” Will the voter demand it? But again, from whom? They who do not understand the words ‘responsibility’ and ‘accountability’? India begs for accountability, from its corporate houses, public servants, and appointed and elected representatives.
Will the judiciary take suo-motu notice?