The Bombay blasts: On bouncing back and police corruption
September 1, 2003
Over the last week you have all read how every calamity reveals that Mumbai has its heart in the right place and the courage and determination to bounce back from disaster.
People rushed to donate blood, returned jewellery, bundled people into hospitals and then got back to work, like it was business as usual.
G.V.Ramakrishna, former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), who watched the aftermath of the blast from a 17th floor window of the Taj Mahal Hotel, within five seconds after it occurred has this to say. “In less than five minutes, the people who were around (the Gateway of India) plunged into action. They got hold of several taxis, bundled all the dead and the injured into them and rushed them off to hospital. In fact, by the time the police and the fire brigade arrived, they were only left with the job of cleaning up the blood and the wreckage”. Well, Saalam Mumbai!
But while we salute the spirit of Mumbai and its steely determination and its resilience, lets not get carried away by the media hype about ‘bouncing back’ to normal. That is not an end in itself.
In fact, the business-as-usual attitude may be turning counter productive. We have learnt over the last few days and months about the dangerously high levels of corruption in the police force. Senior appointments are not only bought but the cost of these postings runs into several crores of rupees.
We have also learnt that the intelligence department of the police, which is critical to keeping tabs on the whereabouts of terrorists, is viewed as a punishment posting, because there is little opportunity to make money.
We have also read about how honest and upright officers such as Yogesh Pratap Singh are hounded and humiliated, with repeated transfers, withholding of promotions and lousy postings.
I personally know a couple of examples of politicians using the police to threaten and to extort money from people. If this hasn’t raised a stink so far, it is only because the victims of extortion were also scamsters.
After the blasts, everyone I spoke to –activists, taxi drivers, maid, journalists, bank employees and ordinary citizens –all are convinced that the problems of Mumbai are all linked to its politicians and their continuous exploitation of the city for their political and monetary ends.
Today, police sources say that they have information about large quantities of RDX and having entered the city, but they are unable to trace it. And because we, the people have stopped demanding accountability of our politicians and allowed them to become more brazen – we are clueless about whether the police is capable of dealing with the threat, especially during the crowded and noisy Ganapati festival. But things were different a decade ago.
Those days, every scandal or calamity turned the heat on the government and forced it to act. Even dirty politician felt pressured to put honest police officials in charge of investigations and to deliver results.
That’s why some of our brightest and best police officers such as Y.P.Singh and Sanjay Pandey got assignments in the CBI, Economic Offences, Narcotics, Dharavi or to handle issues such as the Cobblers scam, Oil privatisation and the SSC marks scandal. In fact, a few years ago, Gopinath Munde, then Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra, told me that these are prized assignments and most cops don't get more than one of them in their entire police career. That is probably because these postings go to the highest bidder. But things have changed enormously in the last ten years. Sanjay Pandey, IPS, engineer from IIT Kanpur and Edward Mason fellow from Harvard University was hounded out of the service.
Look at the humiliation that is being heaped on Y.P.Singh, another IPS officer and author of the explosive and recently released novel Carnage by Angels that exposes the high level of corruption in the police force.
Singh has repeatedly proven his calibre in his tumultuous career.
Some of you would have seen or read about how he, as Commandant of the State Reserve Police transformed its campus at Jogeshwari into a paradise when he was sent there on a punishment posting. The picturesque campus is a favoured location for movie makers and has an Olympic size swimming pool, its own water resource, a massive wedding hall that is free for the police staff (and fetches revenues to maintain the campus), guest houses and a computer centre for the children of all police officials and constables irrespective of their rank. It was all built by the policemen themselves as their ‘shram daan’. Interestingly, even while Singh was transforming Jogeshwari, numerous cases were concocted and slapped against him. He successfully fought these all the way to the Supreme Court (he argued his own cases) and in the process, studied law and topped the Mumbai University at his LLM examination.
The government has recently rewarded him with another humiliating posting that amounts to a demotion. Examples like his show us that it is not enough for Mumbaikars to be courageous -- they must also demand accountability from our politicians.
Former Police Chief Julio Rebeiro has been openly campaigning against corruption in the police force and his barbs at Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal even provoked an intemperate attack from the politician. We need to support and strengthen the efforts of fighters like Mr.Rebeiro and of course the indomitable Anna Hazare. Mr.Hazare and his movement managed to mount enough pressure on the Maharashtra government to force it to issue an ordinance regarding the transfer of government officials. He has also forced the government to concede the right to information to the people.
But these recent victories have to be tested out by the people. If transfers are going to be fair and merit based then a beginning must be made by rehabilitating Y.P.Singh and withdrawing many of the fake cases filed against him.
Similarly, unless citizens demand information from government in the prescribed format, we will never know if the right to information is being conceded only on paper. Let us channel Mumbai’s fabulous spirit as shown during the bomb blasts to get some lasting action on the fight for better governance.