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Delhi Diary

Kejriwal may be right. Delhi police should be answerable to Delhi voters

Delhi's state government and the Union Home Ministry have waged a long battle to control the police department in the national capital.

Arvind Kejriwal is on a warpath again, occupying the circular roads of Lutyens' Delhi to demand that the Delhi Police be made accountable to his office as chief minister of Delhi. Since Delhi has only partial statehood, its CM is the only CM who does not control the police force.

Should the Delhi Police be brought under the control of the Delhi state government instead of remaining under the control of the central government because it is the national capital?

On paper, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress have long supported the idea. Every time there had been a big law-and-order issue in Delhi, former chief minister Sheila Dikshit reiterated this demand. But in TV interviews before starting this agitation, Kejriwal had made it clear he wouldn't point to this fractured jurisdiction as a way of deflecting blame.

It may seem obvious that a burgeoning city-state of 16 million people cannot be policed by the Ministry of Home Affairs, which oversees national security. Whether a station house officer of Delhi Police should be transferred should be the domain of a government elected by locals, chief minister Kejriwal is arguing, not that of a government elected by all of India.

Policing the capital

For his part, Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde has said that Delhi is not just another state; it is also the national capital. Like Washington DC, its police will have to be controlled by the central government.

“Delhi has VVIPs regularly visiting," said former CBI director Joginder Singh. "A police force reporting to the state government cannot be entrusted with foreign dignitaries visiting the central government. Delhi has 180 embassies. If there is a law-and-order issue in the diplomatic enclave of Chanakyapuri, and the foreign mission complains to the central government, will it be wasting time seeking the co-operation of the state government?”

Atishi Marlena, a spokesperson for Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party, says that this was clearly addressed in her party's election manifesto. “Some areas need to remain under the control of the Delhi government," she said. "These are the New Delhi district, the Chanakyapuri diplomatic enclave and the Delhi cantonment." Such a divided jurisdiction for policing would be similar to the one Delhi already has for municipal bodies. Central Delhi, where many government officials and diplomats live, is looked after by the New Delhi Municipal Council, which reports to the Ministry of Home Affairs. The rest of Delhi's civic issues are addressed by the North, South and West municipal corporations.

Officials who have served in the Delhi Police and the Home Ministry seem to agree that disturbing the status quo with the Delhi Police would be a bad idea. TR Kakkar, who was Delhi Police Commissioner in 1997-98, opposes a division. “These foreign dignitaries also step out of the central Delhi limits,” he said. “There will be chaos in trying to co-ordinate between the central and state police. It is not the same as repairing sewage lines.” He added that deciding whether the office in charge of a police station should be transferred is not in the domain of a chief minister – on paper. “Just because other chief ministers do it, doesn't mean it is right,” Kakkar said. “What Kejriwal is asking for is disastrous. When there are state and central governments who do not get along politically, as is the case right now, there will be utter chaos.”

Yet, not everyone agrees that a theft in Shahadara in east Delhi or a rape in south Delhi's Saket should be looked after by a police force whose boss has larger worries, such as militant infiltration in Kashmir and the expanding footprint of the Communist Party of India (Maoist). In 2006, former Director General of the Uttar Pradesh Police Prakash Singh won a landmark case in the Supreme Court that mandates autonomy for the police.

“Routine policing that do not affect national security can be handed over to the state government whereas VVIP and diplomatic security can continue to be the domain of the central government. There is no reason why a formula can't be devised,” Singh told Scroll. “The centre doesn't want to lose control over the Delhi Police. Hindustan mein jisko jo power mil jaati hai woh chorna nahi chahata. Centre ki dadagiri hai. [In India those who have power do not want to let go of it. The Centre wants to show who's boss.]”

It isn't as if the idea of two police forces operating within a large metropolis lacks precedent. While the City of London Police administers law and order only in the 2.8 square kilometres City of London area, the rest of Greater London is protected by the Metropolitan Police Service. Home Minister Shinde is not even right about Washington DC, where the Metropolitan Police Department reports to the city's elected mayor. The MPD shares its policing with several other authorities in the US capital. But Washington is not Delhi. It is a city only of 650,000 people, as compared to Delhi's 16 million. Delhi is more like Mexico City with its nearly 9 million population – only the Federal District's police is controlled by the central government.

Reforming the Delhi Police

“There is no state that has fully implemented the Supreme Court's 2006 directives on police reforms,” said Devyani Srivastava, a researcher at the Access to Justice programme of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative. “While Kerala has done the best, the worst progress has been made by Union Territories whose policing is handled by the MHA. The MHA made a model police bill in 2006 but has not enacted it for its own Union Territories including Delhi.” [See Seven things that could make Indian police work for you and me.]

Applying devolution of power for policing will definitely help, says Srivastava, pointing to the Kerala example. “Policing must be locally supervised. Placing it under the state government allows closer engagement and consultation with its citizens about local concerns and expectations,” she said. “Such a process was in fact carried out in Kerala where the state government itself organised public consultations in all 14 districts of the state, as part of the process of reforming the police. The new police act of Kerala, passed in 2011, was brought about following consultations. The act itself has many weaknesses but this process has ensured local ownership of policing and definitely led to greater public confidence.”

In July 2013, the Ministry of Home Affairs prepared a draft of a new Delhi Police Bill to replace the older one, enacted in 1978. While the new bill was presented as going further with police reforms and handing over some of Delhi Police's functions – such as licensing swimming pools – to the Delhi government, the Sheila Dikshit government raised many objections to the bill. “The draft Bill arrogates the powers of the state government and the district administration to the police department and attempts to subvert the rule of law by trying to establish a police-state,” the Delhi government said.

The Dikshit government had said the new bill gave Delhi Police unnecessary powers in governance domains including taxation, public health, burial grounds, cattle trespass, markets and fairs, inns and motels, entertainment and amusement, betting and gambling.

Yet, the larger problem of policing in Delhi remains executive control – whether the executive authority is the Union Home Minister or the state Chief Minister. The Supreme Court's 2006 order had asked for every police force to be subject to a State Security Commission. Delhi has one, with the leader of the opposition and the Lt. Governor part of it along with the chief minister, but it is a toothless body that meets rarely. For all the rest of Union Territories, there is just one State Security Commission.

The Supreme Court also asked for a Police Complaint Authority to be set up. The Home Ministry and the Sheila Dikshit government simply appointed the toothless Public Grievance Commission of Delhi to do the job.

Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal's government may have drawn flak for its allegedly racist and sexist vigilantism over African nationals and their alleged involvement in drug trade and prostitution, but there was another incident they picked. Women, child and social welfare minister Rakhi Birla says the Delhi Police did not act against a family accused of setting ablaze a daughter-in-law for dowry in south-west Delhi's Indira Park. While the police registered a case against the in-laws of 32-year-old Neha Yadav, they did not arrest them. This despite the testimony of Yadav's 11-year-old son, who says he saw his grandparents set his mother on fire. Yadav has been admitted in Safdarjung hospital with 30 per cent burns. Birla alleged the police were not arresting the in-laws as they had been bribed – there had been police complaint of dowry harassment in the past and Yadav had even been given police protection. When Birla forced the Delhi Police to break into the house, there was no one inside. The in-laws are still at large.

Arvind Kejriwal and his party have a simple explanation about why the central government does not want the state government to be able to directly make the Delhi Police accountable for such cases. Citing former home secretary RK Singh (who has joined the BJP), Kejriwal claimed that the corruption economy of the Delhi Police goes straight up to Home Minister Shinde, who allegedly even interferes in the appointment of station house officers in exchange of bribes.

“The AAP is pandering to local racist bias against Africans in Khirki village, but in the case of the Danish woman who was gang-raped, the Delhi Police is clearly at fault for not doing the routing police patrolling they were supposed to do in the Paharganj area at the time,” said feminist activist Kavita Krishnan, general secretary of the CPI (ML)-aligned All India Progressive Women's Association. “There is no doubt the Delhi Police should be made more accountable to the people by bringing it under the Delhi state government. If there are no security issues when a foreign dignitary visits Agra or Mumbai, why should it be an issue in Delhi?” she asks.
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