The controversy about the ‘encounter’ killing of gangster Vikas Dubey shows no signs of dying down. The Statesman, and practically all other newspapers, have cast grave doubts on the police version of the encounter, pointing out, inter alia, that most ‘encounters’ by the police had an almost identical storyline. While the ruling party lauds the ‘encounter’ as an achievement of the police, leaders of opposition parties see the ‘encounter’ as evidence of the breakdown of law and order in UP and an attempt to avoid exposure of the politician- criminal nexus.

Whatever be their public utterances, most politicians have heaved a private sigh of relief after the ‘encounter’ because their sordid secrets now lie buried with the dead gangster. Of course, politicians will continue using Dubey’s name to malign leaders of rival parties; like Bofors, the ghost of the dead gangster would be exhumed, at convenient times. Public perception is also sharply divided about the encounter; most people view the ‘encounter’ as ‘good riddance to bad rubbish’ while a minuscule minority raise uncomfortable questions about what they term as an extra-judicial killing.

The only point of convergence between these highly disparate views is that no one believes the official version of the ‘encounter’ which was the 119th encounter by the UP Police in the last four years. As required by law, a magisterial inquiry would be held but considering the fact that the UP Police has got a clean chit in all its previous 74 ‘encounters’, it is quite likely that the police version would be endorsed judicially. The sequence of events leading to the annihilation of Vikas Dubey have shown the police in a bad light because of their inefficiency, quite apart from doubts about the legality and morality of their actions.

To recall, a heavilyarmed and sufficiently large police force went after the gangster in the dead of night. Forgetting their training, the police walked into an ambush losing eight of their men to sniper fire. In retaliation, the police shot dead five Dubey gang members at different places and also razed the gangster’s house. To add spice to the story, the gangster had a number of moles in the police department. Thus, the clash between Dubey’s gang and the police resembled a gang war more than a confrontation between lawbreakers and law enforcers. The present Government lays great stress on increasing the ease of doing business which would not be possible without a facilitating environment of stable law and order.

China had attracted foreign investment by creating industrial hubs, where in addition to the provision of attractive facilities for manufacturing, the rule of law was strictly enforced. Unfortunately, reverse has been the case in India. Industries have moved out from centuries old thriving industrial hubs like Kolkata and Kanpur only because of the poor law and order situation. Kanpur, the hometown of gangster Vikas Dubey, had a flourishing cloth manufacturing business, since the 1850s, with famous enterprises like Lal Imli and Elgin Mills, but extortionate trade unionism and nonexistent law and order have ensured the closure of these businesses.

Similarly, Meerut and Modinagar had a number of manufacturing facilities but poor law and order and the prevalence of kidnapping for ransom has forced the closure of most of their industries; owners of the remaining factories stay in Delhi, visiting their factories surreptitiously at odd times. It has been reported that Vikas Dubey had amassed assets of around Rs 6,000 crore in India and abroad and the Enforcement Directorate is initiating a probe into the acquisition of such assets.

It would be interesting to find out why, in the first instance, multiple revenue agencies had failed to detect tax evasion at this humongous scale, as also violation of the Income-tax Act, Customs Act, Prevention of Money Laundering Act, Black Money Act, Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act etc. We may also note that criminal laws like the IPC, NSA, UAPA, MCOCA could not deter Vikas Dubey in his criminal pursuits. Obviously, Government agencies grievously failed in implementation of their mandate.

The Vohra Committee, constituted to study the problem of criminalisation of politics and of the nexus among criminals, politicians and bureaucrats in India had observed: “In the bigger cities, the main source of income relates to real estate ~ forcibly occupying lands/buildings, procuring such properties at cheap rates by forcing out the existing occupants/tenants etc. Over time, the money power thus acquired is used for building up contacts with bureaucrats and politicians and expansion of activities with impunity. The money power is used to develop a network of muscle-power which is also used by the politicians during elections.” The modus operandi described above, fits Vikas Dubey to a T.

The Vohra Committee Report had suggested coordination between multiple enforcement agencies, to prevent criminals from acquiring disproportionate influence and money power, observing. “There (is) the vital importance of setting up a nodal point to which all existing intelligence and Enforcement agencies (irrespective of the Department under which they are located) shall promptly pass on any information which they may come across, which relates to the activities of crime syndicates.”

The classic example of Al Capone, the most infamous gangster in American history, who could not be convicted for the many murders that he had committed, but was run aground by an income-tax investigation would convince everyone about the usefulness of cooperation between the police and revenue agencies. However, till today, coordination between enforcement agencies is superficial, despite the existence of an elaborate coordination machinery headed by the Central Economic Intelligence Bureau (CEIB), which is supposed to coordinate and strengthen intelligence gathering activities, investigative efforts and enforcement action by various agencies.

Regional Economic Intelligence Councils (REICs) comprising senior officers of the Incometax, Customs & CGST, heads of related agencies of Central and State Governments viz. DRI, DGGI, NCB, ED, CBI, IB, local heads of the RoC, RBI, State Police and Tax Authorities etc report to the CEIB. The REIC is supposed to meet every two months to disseminate real-time information/ intelligence to related enforcement agencies and record the action taken on the information exchanged/ shared between various agencies and send it to the CEIB which, in turn, reports to the Economic Intelligence Council, headed by the Finance Minister.

Fully operationalised, this structure can deter big crime because financial gain is the main aim of organised crime and the challenge before most criminals is that of legalising their illegal earnings. The police can perform much better if they are trained professionally and freed of political interference. An unprofessional attitude and the need to please political masters often result in police stepping outside the law that they are supposed to uphold. For example, we have had a number of Supreme Court judgments prohibiting encounter killings and custodial torture but both practices go on unabated. On its part, the Government has fought shy of implementing the Reports of the National Police Commission because the Commission had recommended operational independence for the police and supervision of the police in all States by a State Security Commission, which would have meant loss of control over police by bureaucrats and the political executive.

The Chief Commissioner of London Police, Sir Robert Mark, had laid down his vision for the police in the following words: “The most essential weapons in our armoury are not firearms, water cannon, teargas or rubber bullets, but the confidence and support of the people on whose behalf we act. That confidence and support depends not only on the factors I have already mentioned but on our personal and collective integrity and in particular on our long tradition of constitutional freedom from political interference in our operational role.

It is important for you to understand that the police are not the servants of the Government at any level. We do not act at the behest of a minister or any political party, not even the party in government. We act on behalf of the people as a whole and the powers we exercise cannot be restricted or widened by anyone, save Parliament alone.” We wish our police, too, could achieve this high level of independence and professionalism.

(The writer is a retired Principal Chief Commissioner of Income-Tax)