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After the killing of an Apple executive by a constable, the top police brass has started training its force on soft skills. But will this clean up a system known for its money power?

By Atul Chandra in Lucknow

In the aftermath of the killing of Vivek Tiwari, a senior executive of Apple, allegedly by a beat constable in Lucknow, the police top brass began training their men in weapon handling, crowd control, basics of forensics and, above all, good behaviour.

The first batch of 200 policemen and women began a 12-day refresher in the state capital on October 9 with Director-General of Police OP Singh telling the trainees that “soft body parts should not be fired at or hit with a lathi and any strong action should be taken only after consulting superiors”. The first round of the training will cover 6,000 personnel of Lucknow zone and later, the remaining seven zones will be covered.

But the shadow of discontent loomed over the training programme. Social media was abuzz with a call for protest on October 11 against the arrest of Prashant Chaudhary, the constable who allegedly shot Tiwari at close range. This call was given despite disciplinary action being taken against some policemen who wore black arm bands to show solidarity with the accused constable.

Prakash Singh, former DGP of UP, said although training of lower-rank police officials is an important part of the police manual and should be undertaken in every district every month, the practice apparently was not being followed in recent times. If at all it was being done, the behaviour of the UP police towards the common man did not show it. He called the ongoing training exercise “comic”.

Confirming the doubts about training, DGP OP Singh reportedly admitted: “We have not given adequate attention to training of cops which has resulted in unfortunate incidents like the Vivek Tiwari murder case. But now we have introduced training and refresher courses which will surely bring positive change in a couple of months.” He said there was a trust deficit between officers and the ranks as most senior officers did not believe in an interface with the constabulary, which was a common practice earlier.

Two recent instances of loot by cops, in which two courts had to order registration of cases of dacoity against 26 policemen, support Singh’s argument. In one incident, the Bulandshahr police registered a case against 13 cops, including five sub-inspectors of Khurja police station, for looting a local washerman’s house. Reports said that the 40-year-old washerman, Mustaqeem, was asking the policemen to clear his dues. His pleading enraged the cops who arrested him on a cooked-up charge of dealing in narcotics and illegal arms. In a raid on Mustaqeem’s house in Khwayeshgyan locality around September 8, a team of 15 policemen in plainclothes took away his two motorcycles and Rs 84,000 in cash. So nonchalant were they that they did not notice a CCTV camera installed near Mustaqeem’s house which recorded their criminal act. The court ordered the police to file an FIR under five IPC sections, including fabrication of false evidence and wrongful confinement, but only a case of dacoity under Section 395 was registered.

Earlier, in March 2018, the Farrukhabad district court ordered registration of a case of alleged dacoity against 13 policemen, including the head of the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team and the police station in-charge on the complaint of one Sharda Devi. The police FIR of February 22 said that Sharda Devi’s son, Dhruv Singh Bagheliya, and his kin, Shrichand, fired at a police patrol party near Pilkhana Road on the night of February 21. The police claimed that the shots hit the bullet-proof jackets of constable Sachinder and Sanjay Rai, the SWAT team in-charge. In the retaliatory firing, Dhruv was hit in the leg and nabbed, while his kin managed to flee. The police also claimed that they recovered a pistol, 240 gm of gold and 1.4 kg of silver from Dhruv’s possession. Sharda Devi contested this claim. She alleged that on February 21 night, 13 policemen forcibly entered her house and held her son at gun-point. They looted her belongings and even misbehaved with her daughter. Later, they shot Dhruv in the leg in a fake encounter. Taking cognisance of her complaint, the court ordered that a case be registered. An inquiry has also been ordered.

The first warning signal of the deep-rooted malaise in the UP police came when the Unnao police openly connived with BJP MLA Kuldeep Sengar and his brother in a rape case. This signal, unfortunately, was not taken note of by the police top brass in Lucknow, said Prakash Singh.

Another former DGP was of the view that training may not change the criminal mindset of cops and those causing unrest in the force should be summarily dismissed. He said a background check must be done to ascertain when and how these constables were recruited. Also, the behaviour of those undergoing training should be monitored to ensure that the training has had the desired result, he said.

The state has an approximate strength of 2.5 lakh police personnel. The behavioural problem is attributed largely to the Samajwadi Party. During Mulayam Singh Yadav’s rule, thousands of policemen were recruited. An inquiry found that bribes and other favours were given weightage over merit in the recruitment process. The officers who conducted the inquiry were given punishment postings by the government, while those who played along were rewarded.

Around 22,000 constables were recruited, and a newspaper report said that it contributed to the politicisation of the force in the state. As the Samajwadi Party government was infamous for criminalisation of the polity, it is also believed that shady elements got into the police force.

This set a precedent of political patronage being used in transfers and postings of not only senior officers, but also of constables, sub-inspectors and inspectors, making it difficult for their superiors to take any disciplinary action against them.

The UP police also has many personnel who subscribe to the Bahujan Samaj Party and Hindutva ideology. Therefore, while training may gradually bring about positive behavioural changes, it may not prepare a politically neutral force. A carrot and stick policy is also being used to contain unrest in the force. On October 9, the government announced the promotion of a record 25,091 constables as head constables. Such mass promotions have never happened in the state before. The DGP called it the “biggest promotion in the history of the state”. Earlier exercises had 9,000 constables being promoted in 2017 and 15,000 in 2016.

The promotions follow disciplinary action against some constables in Lucknow for observing a protest on October 5 by wearing black bands. Three of the five constables whose photographs were released displaying black ribbons tied around their arms were suspended. Also removed from their posts were three station house officers—Parshuram Singh of Naka Hindola, Ajay Yadav of Aliganj and Dharmesh Shahi of Gudamba—for their failure to check indiscipline. The suspended cops belonged to the above police stations.

It is believed that those who incited trouble by mustering support for Prashant Chaudhary were actually two constables dismissed in 2012—Avinash Pathak and Brajendra Yadav. They were arrested from Mirzapur and Varanasi, respectively. Before their dismissal then for indiscipline and dereliction of duty, they were with the Provin­cial Armed Constabulary.

To counter the misuse of social media platforms by policemen, DGP Singh reissued a 2016 social media policy for cops. Violation of the policy’s guidelines would invite punishment ranging from warning to dismissal from service. The guidelines bar policemen from liking posts of colleagues showing discontent in the police ranks.

Police personnel cannot “post dero­gatory comment on subordinates, colleagues of officers”. They will be requi­red to write that their posts on social media are their personal views and have nothing to do with the department.

The guidelines also forbid police personnel from commenting on caste, religion, sex and state, using foul language or loading vulgar songs and photos.

Despite these measures, a section of police personnel, howsoever small it may be, is in no mood to give up the fight. One WhatsApp group recently carried a photograph of two police-men on a motorcycle wearing black ribbons on their arms. To avoid identification, they had their faces covered with helmets.

It is indeed tough to rein in this force.

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