Tug of war continues
When protests happen in India, a large crowd assembles and creates a huge din, presumably because they are outraged at something. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) too on Sunday held a protest against Delhi Police, protesting the brutal and heinous stabbing of a 19-year-old girl in Anand Parbat locality three days ago, saying it has failed to provide security for women. The victim was stabbed 35 times, including in the face, neck, back, chest and stomach.
The girl had filed a molestation complaint against the attackers in 2013. Furious at this error of commission on the part of the Delhi Police the protesters gathered outside its headquarters, some of whom like seasoned rock climbers scaled the barricades set up by the police. They were then promptly sprayed with water cannons. Instead of cooling them down, the water spraying led to the opposite effect. AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal penned a exasperated letter to the Prime Minister demanding that either the Centre devote an hour weekly to the law and order situation in Delhi or hand over the control of police to the Delhi Government. This issue has become another tug of war between the Centre and the city state administration.
On closer analysis, there is some merit to this long-standing demand of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). The 69th amendment Act of 1991 granted Delhi a special status of National Capital Territory. At the same time the amendment ended up limiting the Delhi administration’s powers on three critical premises of Land, Police and Public Order, therefore, denying full statehood and impacting the state’s autonomy for a long time to come. Article 239, under a special provision grants more powers to the Lieutenant Governor than to any other Governor, particularly in respect of Police and Land, both of which are usually State subjects.
Although different countries have developed their own policing systems, it is not correct to say that “most” capital city police systems are directly supervised by their Central governments. The Washington DC Police, which is a “municipal police”, is supervised by the mayor Muriel Bowser and not by their federal government. As far as the ordinary man on the Washington streets is concerned, crime, law and order is handled by the DC Police, except in designated areas. Similarly, the British Home Office, which had direct control over the London Metropolitan Police, had gradually ceded such supervision to the London mayor.
First it was in 2000 with the establishment of the Metropolitan Police Authority and later under the elected police commissioner system introduced by the David Cameron government in which the Mayor’s Office for Policing & Crime started operating from January 2012. The tiny City of London Police, manning 1.1 sq miles of the financial capital with 833 police officers was always under the Lord Mayor. Given this global context, it is ironic that a state which has a population of 16.75 million, more people than Switzerland or Israel combined should have no say in its own law and order.
Over the years, Delhi Police has been involved in a series of controversies; ranging from custodial deaths, refusal to write First Information Reports, inaction or collusion with arsonists during communal riots. At various times, Delhi Police has been found to be harsher on criminals which has caused it to get warnings from the Supreme Court of India and Central Bureau of Investigation. Delhi Police has often been reported as one of the most corrupt police forces in the country, with the highest number of complaints in the Indian Police Services being registered against its personnel. This issue brings to fore the more contentious issue of statehood for Delhi, which if granted would not only grant autonomy but would also lend clarity to the roles and responsibilities of the Executives and the Head of the State, which would then nullify the current Central government’s overreach and apathy.