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Saturday Interview | ‘Police leadership mishandled Delhi riots’

His book ‘Dial D for Don’, published in 2015, was a bestseller in which he recounted the stories of eleven police operations that he conducted during his posting in the CBI. He represented India at the UN Convention on Transnational Organised Crime at Vienna.

Vijay Thakur | New Delhi |

Former Delhi Police commissioner NEERAJ KUMAR had a remarkable career as an IPS officer. During his 37-year-long stint with the country’s elite police service, he served in Delhi, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Goa and with the CBI.

A 1976 batch IPS officer, Kumar retired as the Delhi Police chief in 2013. A substantial part of his tenure was with the CBI where he unearthed the UTI scam, exposed several terror outfits, and probed the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts.

His book ‘Dial D for Don’, published in 2015, was a bestseller in which he recounted the stories of eleven police operations that he conducted during his posting in the CBI. He represented India at the UN Convention on Transnational Organised Crime at Vienna.

He also represented India at Vienna during deliberations of the United Nations Manual on Kidnapping & Extortion, 2014. He was handpicked to be the Conference Secretary when the World Interpol Conference took place in New Delhi in October 2007.

In a freewheeling interview with VIJAY THAKUR, Kumar candidly shared his thoughts on a range of crucial issues.


Q. Despite efforts to modernise the Indian police force, our police hardly match up to the police force of the Western world. Our police is overburdened, stressed and ill-equipped. What does it lack?

A. Over the years our police has changed a lot. It is more qualified and tech-savvy now. These days police officers investigate in a more professional way. Yet it needs to change its mindset. Most of the police force still has a colonial mindset and considers the public as their subjects. A police officer must remember he is not here to rule but to maintain the rule of law.

Secondly, our Public Relations Department is very poor and unprofessional. And this changes the public perception about the police. About a decade ago, I went to Scotland Yard, whose police force is considered to be one of the best in the world. It has one-tenth of Delhi Police’s strength.

I was shocked to see that there were 67 public relations professionals working round the clock for Scotland Yard. They were not from police but professionals who had worked in various media organisations. They keep analysing public perceptions, keep them updated on police achievements. And the result is there. Forget how they work — they have a very good image and people like them.

Indian police have to change their communication skills and mindset. Police officers must remember it is people’s police and is answerable to them, and the police PR department must form a bridge between people and police to change people’s perception.

Q. But changing public perception alone would not help as the police force is still ill-equipped and has a corrupt image. Your comments?

A. The are many reasons for corruption. You are right… the police force is ill-equipped. Government is not meeting its minimum investigation requirements. I give you an example. If a Sub Inspector finds an unclaimed body in his area, he might try to throw it out of his jurisdiction, This is because he is not paid sufficient money for disposing it.

Once a body is found, it is the responsibility of the Investigating Officer to get the post mortem done and perform last rites. Unfortunately, most of the money he spends goes from his pocket or he has to find ‘other sources of income’.

Another example I would give is of a vehicle stolen in Delhi but recovered in Nagaland. No one wants to know how a cop brings it back and how much he spends for its transportation. Similarly, while conducting investigations, he has to spend money from his pocket to get information etc. So, from where he would recover all this money?

The list of such problems is long and everyone knows it. Tell me, how can a honest police officer pay these expenses? The answer is obvious.

Q. What immediate reforms would you suggest in the police force to make it humane and efficient?

A. Well, the list is long. However, I would recommend two immediate changes which do not need even a single rupee. First, do not assess a police officer on the basis of crime figures in his area. If we do that, it puts pressure on police officers to keep crime figures under check. He would manipulate the figure, underreport it or will not report it at all.

Let all crimes be reported and registered. Assess a police officer on how he handles law and order and investigates crimes, and not on the basis of reporting of crimes. Trust me, half of the problems would be solved. Most of the complaints against police is against non-reporting of crimes.

So, public perception would thus change. Second reform required all over the country is that one should not fight over jurisdiction. Wherever a case is reported, it may be registered and sent to the police station concerned after the preliminary process.

If today Asaram Bapu is in jail, it is because of this. The victim reported the matter to her father in UP and the latter registered a zero FIR in Kamala Market police station in New Delhi. Delhi Police got the medical examination of the victim done and sent her to Jodhpur where the crime took place.

Now if the victim had gone straight to the police in Jodhpur, her case would have never been registered because of Asaram’s influence there, leave aside conviction. But once the FIR was registered in Delhi, the local police in Jodhpur had no option but to investigate and arrest the accused.

Q. Delhi Police earned a bad name over the February 2020 Delhi riots. How do you see it?

A. When we analyse the Northeast Delhi riots, we find that it was a culmination of mishandling of many incidents, right from Jamia to JNU to Shaheen Bagh. It was a reflection of poor police leadership.

Rather, I would say there was barely any leadership then in Delhi Police at the top level. Then police commissioner Amulya Patnaik could not give clear instructions to his subordinate officers, there was hardly any planning, and police did not follow any SOPs. It was then in fact a free-for-all in Delhi.

Police officers at the ground level did not know what to do. Handling such incidents is no rocket science. In fact, previous Delhi Police commissioners have handled worse situations than this in a more professional and efficient way.

It depends upon how the top leader behaves. Force is as good as its leader. There is an old saying in the Army: There is no bad Army, there are bad Generals. So, I have no hesitation in saying that Delhi riots were the culmination of mishandling of many incidents, failure of intelligence, and lack of proper planning.

When the police chief was changed, the results were visible on the ground. Look at the post-riot handling of the Delhi police — it was excellent, good mob management, good scientific investigations and so on. The force was the same. The only change was that leadership was changed with S N Shrivastava replacing Patnaik.

Q. Another case which has damaged the police image is the Sushant Singh Rajput death case in Mumbai. What is your take on it?

A. I must accept that the Mumbai police has not acted properly. First, it did not communicate with media, which it normally does in such sensitive cases. After all, we all work for the public, it is our job to convince them and clarify if they are doubting our intentions.

Unfortunately, for reasons best known to them, this time there was a huge communication gap. As a result, rumour-mongering started and the media made it a movement. Then the case was registered at Patna, which further damaged their image. Mumbai Police committed another blunder: Instead of explaining its legal position to the Bihar police and media, it preferred to fight with the Bihar police.

And when an IPS officer came to investigate, he was quarantined. Had I been the commissioner of Mumbai Police, I would have sat down with the Patna police officer, helped him and explained the legal position to him. I could have politely told him that this was not his jurisdiction.

But Mumbai Police made a mockery of the entire police force and failed to keep the confidence of the public and media.

Q. What about police-politicians nexus? The allegations regarding such nexus are emerging in the Sushant case as well.

A. I must admit that the situation is very bad all over the country when it comes to the nexus between police, politicians, bureaucrats, and now criminals. In fact, criminals these days have become politicians and common people are suffering the most.

It is also an open secret that police are not allowed to work independently. If they do not toe the political line set for them, they are in trouble. Though most of my services were with Delhi Police and the CBI, I also had stints in Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh and Goa. There used to be a day-to-day interference in these states.

And it would continue. Politicians are public representatives and we need to listen to them as well. But we are taught how not to yield to pressure and maintain a balance. A police officer has to follow the rule of law and always remember he is answerable to the Constitution of this country, and should not compromise with any illegal act or unlawful orders.