Friday 18 October 2019

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Controversial police bill comes under fire

 

Can the concept of privatisation be stretched to such an extent that the law and order maintaining authority be also partially privatised ? Goa's newly enacted police act, which is still awaiting governor's assent, provides for two such provisions - the honorary police and the auxiliary police.

It has attracted criticism not only from the local NGOs, trade unions and the lawyers, but even the union home ministry has expressed strong reservations about such provisions. However, police act being a state subject, union home minister Indrajit Gupta has now appealed to the people of Goa to unitedly fight against such draconian law.

The concept has been imported from Singapore by chief minister Pratapsing Rane, making a special trip there along with his select committee colleagues, including the opposition leader Kashinath Jalmi. Obviously, the bill was then passed in the House unanimously, without much debate. Learned people now allege that the provisions were included in the draft later without inviting public objections.

The act appears very impressive, on one hand, with ban on spitting, smoking, urinating, throwing garbage or even firing crackers or flying kites in public places. The intention is to keep Goa as clean and disciplined as Singapore, eyeing on upmarket tourist inflow in the state. But privatisation of the police force is the darker side, which is now coming to the fore.

It became a public issue during union home minister's visit here to address the May Day rally. "Provisions like the auxiliary police should be opposed tooth and nail. Build a state-wide movement before the President gives his assent", he appealed while addressing the rally. Though police act is a state subject, his ministry is also presently studying the bill minutely. The state government, on the other hand, is also preparing a convincing note for the governor.

"...The creation of an auxiliary police force within the limits of any specified area owned by or under the jurisdiction or control of the government or of any company, statutory body or other organisation, as the case may be, (is) for the purpose of safeguarding life and property within such area...every auxiliary police officer shall have the powers, protection and immunities of a police officer...the salaries...shall be paid by the company, statutory body or other organisation".

"This provision is meant for the big companies and other corporate bodies to crush workers' struggles. It gives free licence to the goonda gangs hired by the industrialists", says Christopher Fonseca, the local CPI secretary. The May Day rally, attended by Gupta, also condemned it along with CPM demanding withdrawal of these provisions.

"Unarmed local people dare not question now the rape and destruction of their environment without being ready to face a hail of bullets from the legalised bunch of thugs. It's an insult to our people that such a drastic concept could have been suddenly incorporated into the police act without the public even knowing about it", comments Adv J Peter D'Souza, a prominent criminal lawyer.

Though the police department is tight-lipped over the issue, the retired veterans are not too happy with the changing face of Goa police. "No police powers of arrest etc should be given to private security and detective agencies. They would obviously abuse it in various ways and create considerable confusion in public mind", opines Prabhakar Sinari, a former IGP and a freedom fighter.

But chief minister Rane denies having such intentions. "The auxiliary police force, on the lines of Singapore police act, will strengthen the policing aspect", he argues. But at the same time he claims : Goa is a peaceful state with no riots or public unrest. "Then why do you require the additional private police force", Gupta asked the CM at the public rally. He also demanded written clarification from him that the private police will not be misused for such purpose.

"It's like the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) the union government has provided in all the government undertakings. Why was it not withdrawn when the local Goa Shipyard workers opposed it", asks a top bureaucrat furiously, throwing the ball in Gupta's court. The union home ministry has no business to interfere into such state matters, he feels.

Meanwhile, legal experts in the government also justify two separate provisions, for the honorary police and the auxiliary police. The auxiliary police is a group of securitymen, deputed permanently, but within the specified area or premises. But the honorary police would be individuals, who would be given policing powers only in particular situation, they argue.

The experts also admit that the new act, including provisions for private police, are thought of in a situation of the changing modern world of commercial and industrial era and upsurge of movements. The old Indian Police Act, 1867, which was in force in Goa since its liberation in 1961, did not provide for such situations 130 years ago.

But Adv D'Souza does not agree. "The act is sheer plagiarism of the Bombay Police Act 1951, which in turn is an amalgamation of two earlier acts known as the Bombay District Police Act, 1890 and the City of Bombay Police Act, 1902. Hence the Goa police act is substantially meant for the previous century of a colonial era. How will it help us in the 21st century", he asks.

Goa would be perhaps the first state in India also to introduce the Commissionerate system for the whole state, which otherwise prevails only in the metropolis. "Goa is developing as a City State. The rapid industrialisation, tourist boom, advent of Konkan railway and economic liberalisation have unleashed an avalanche of socio-economic forces having far reaching impact on Goa's future. Such a situation demands Commissionerate system for the whole state", argues Rane.

Discarding the 'district magistrate' system, the police commissioner would be now given magisterial powers. "The police Commissionerate system is found to be effective in the emergencies like when riots or uprisings take place in any parts of the state at the same time. It has also attribute of firmness of action, speedy decision, singleness of the purpose coupled with discipline and the force behind the action", argues Rane.

He is now also introducing the concept of neighbourhood police stations, practised in Japan and Singapore, which means the police officer would visit every house in the locality once in six months and participate in their family functions. This will create a sort of community feeling between the police and the people, says Rane, without explaining how the same impersonal police force could achieve it.

To keep Goa as clean as Singapore, placing building material or washing and repairing vehicles on the streets, using loudspeakers without permission, closing streets for public functions or even illuminating or excavating the streets would be prohibited. No person could behave indecently in public places or obstruct or annoy the passengers or even take bath near the wells or tanks in public places. Hawking or even buying from children below 14 years would be a serious offence.

It gives magisterial powers to the police to compound while also authorising them to search any suspected person walking on streets or found moving in a suspicious manner between 10 pm to 5 am. The bill also deals with stray cattle. Fines would be more stringent and deterrent for all such offences, starting with Rs 100 to Rs 1000 while imprisonment would also last from eight days to even six months.

"These are all fine plans. But do we have proper infrastructure to implement it ? Goa is not Singapore in terms of economic conditions or the poverty line. No person likes to stay in slums or have bath in public. Having his own shop is everybody's dream. You can't implement such legislation at the cost of livelihood of an individual", states Fonseca, the trade union leader.






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