Residents and employees of businesses in Old Delhi are perturbed at an unprecedented door-to-door security-related census being conducted by the Delhi Police of those living and working near the Red Fort ahead of Independence Day.

The census started a month before August 15, when the Prime Minister of India traditionally addresses the nation from the ramparts of the 17th-century monument.

“We have been living here for around 70 years now and suddenly we are a threat today,” said an indignant Lal Chand Jain, 75, a resident of Dariba Kalan.

Jain heads a family of 10, including his sons, daughters-in-law and grandchildren. He expressed his helplessness at the census saying: “Even if one takes offence to policemen knocking on their doors for no reason and asking for details about every family member, including their photographs, what can one do? They are the police and what they are doing is for security, they claim.”

Door-to-door scrutinity

The localities the Delhi Police is scrutinising include the Old Delhi areas of Dariba Kalan, Bhagirath Palace, Angoori Bagh, Lajpat Rai Market and the Chandni Chowk stretch between Red Fort and the intersection close to Gurudwara Sis Ganj.

Every year, security personnel set up a multi-layered security ring around the Red Fort in the run up to Independence Day. The usual security protocol includes clearing the area of encroachers and street vendors, cross verifying tenants and domestic help and seeking basic details of employees from commercial enterprises, said Deputy Commissioner of Police (Crime Branch) Rajan Bhagat.

In previous years, the cross verification of employees working in the area was done on the basis of a form that the owner of the business submitted. This form contained details of the shop’s registration and number of employees, and was submitted to the Delhi Police.

This year, however, besides profiling residents for the first time, police personnel have also visited each shop or business in the area and quizzed each employee separately for their basic details. It is also collecting group photographs from each resident family and business in the area.

“The policemen approached us and took down some details like name, age and permanent address and asked for a photograph,” said Manish Patil, who has been working at a garment shop in Chandni Chowk for over 10 years.

According to the police, the aim of this exercise is to familiarise police personnel with every person residing, or working, in the vicinity of the Red Fort. So far, the police has recorded basic details, and collected photographs, of nearly 9,000 people.

The Deputy Commissioner of Police (North Delhi) Madhur Verma admitted that this was the “first time” such an exercise was being conducted. “Police officials visited houses with lists, seeking details about every family member,” he said.

Verma added that the photos and other details would be sent to Delhi Police’s Special Branch.

According to a report published in the Times of India, security agencies have advised the government of a “considerably higher” threat perception during Independence Day this year.

When asked specifically about this threat, Verma did not comment.

'Unnecessary exercise'

Locals said that the additional census of residents was unnecessary.

“It is absolute harassment,” said Jain. “All members of the family are not comfortable…with such things. They [the police] first asked for individual photographs and later sought a group photo, to be printed in postcard size, with all the family members in it.”

Jain pointed out that domestic help, tenants and employees in business enterprises were already screened through the process of police verification, which is intensified before Independence Day every year. “It also doesn’t make any sense to me," said Jain. "What threat would be posed by a person with a permanent residence or established business in the area? Such a person will be traced within seconds.”

Patil said that though his shop took a group photograph of its employees as directed by the police, one of his colleagues was not present as he was unwell. “The police officials insisted that he must be there in the photo,” said Patil. “So we had to call him back urgently and get another photo clicked, which the policemen collected from us in a week. Such harassment it was.”

Also, while the police claimed that its own photographers were taking snapshots of residents as required, locals said that they were asked to click pictures on their phones and were directed to a specific photo lab in the area to print them.

Sense of unease

Patil questioned why the police wasn’t concerned about other crime in the area.

“What about security measures with regard to rampant snatching and pick-pocketing which takes place here?” he said. “No criminal has been profiled with regard to those incidents, which are reported here round the year."

Jain, Patil and another local who did not want to be indentified said that though they understood the exercise was a matter of security, the fact that the police approached people in the area suddenly and sought their details and photographs had made long-time residents of the area uneasy. They said residents felt that they were being investigated for no reason.