Patience under extreme provocation should be the guiding principle of the police and the security forces deployed on crowd control operations. For attaining this discipline, the imperative necessity is proper and well designed training programmes for the police and security personnel detailed for public order maintenance duties. Officers and men deployed for such duties must understand crowd dynamics and convergence motivations.
The West Bengal police have set up a special team to investigate the firing by the Central Industrial Security Force at Sitalkuchi in Cooch Bihar district, resulting in the killing of four persons and injuring many others.
The Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, called it a genocide and demanded resignation of the union Home Minister Amit Shah. She had further declared at a public meeting that she would direct the State CID to set up a special team to probe into the matter and see that guilty persons are speedily brought to book.
But the fact to be borne in mind Is that the CISF is one of the armed forces of the Union and no court without the sanction of the Central government as laid down under Section 197 of the Code of Criminal Procedure can take cognisance of any offence committed by its personnel in discharge of their duties.
Again, section 132 of the CRPC read with section 129 of the code, provides protection to CISF personnel for use of force for dispersal of unlawful assemblies. They cannot be prosecuted without the prior sanction of the Central government.
In the Border Security Force (BSF), errant officers and men in such situations are dealt with under the BSF Act modelled on the Army Act and not handed over to the police for investigation and prosecution. I recall an incident which took place when I was posted as IG, BSF in Calcutta. In an encounter with cattle smugglers in Murshidabad district, a BSF contingent opened fire, killing ten villagers.
The firing was unprovoked and lacked proportionality. After due enquiry, I suspended the delinquent personnel and ordered their prosecution under the BSF Act. The then Chief Minister of West Bengal, Jyoti Basu was irate and communicated through the state Home Secretary that the delinquent BSF staff must be handed over to the state police for investigation and prosecution.
We did not accept the view of the state government but firmly dealt with the offenders by taking action under the BSF Act. Later, I called on the Chief Minister and explained to him the rationale behind our decision.
However, in the instant case, the key issue regarding the CISF firing is whether there had been disproportionate use of force by the contingent leading to the death of four persons and whether the force was trigger happy or overreacted in panic. Over these questions and other related issues, the jury is still out.
A high level official enquiry wiill definitely bring to light all the facts and circumstances leading to the sad denouement. But from reports that have appeared in the press, it seems that the tragedy could have been averted if the force had acted with caution and restraint. Prohibitory order under Section 144 CRPC had been promulgated in the area but the question looms whether opening fire without warning and not aiming below the knee of the assembled crowd was required and justified.
The plea of the CISFcontingent that it opened fire in self-defence has to stand the test of close scrutiny.
As none of the CISF personnel suffered any serious injury, the plea of threat to life appears to be unconvincing. Arguably, the central forces deployed for law and order and miscellaneous duties in states should function under the control of local police officers, who have more intimate knowledge of conditions and better understanding of local feelings, and act as a restraining and sobering influence. A local police officer can parley with the mob and deescalate tension. I recollect when I was posted as Range DIG at Rourkela in Orissa.
The state government requested and received help of the CRPF to combat a difficult law and order situation following a student agitation. While patrolling in the town, some rowdy young students pelted stones at my car.
The instantaneous reaction of the CRPF officer accompanying me was to shoot at them. I had to firmly restrain and expostulate him, and point out that this kind of overreaction and trigger happiness was uncalled for and would escalate the situation.
This brings to the fore the question of training of paramilitary forces to deal with unruly mobs. Patience under extreme provocation should be the guiding principle of the police and the security forces deployed on crowd control operations. For attaining this discipline, the imperative necessity is proper and and well designed training programmes for the police and security personnel detailed for public order maintenance duties. Officers and men deployed for such duties must understand crowd dynamics and convergence motivations.
Gustaf Lebon, in his authoritative book “Le Foule” has stressed the point that crowd membership tends to arouse a person’s primordial impulses, while at the same time lessens his rational and sober reactions. It may be mentioned in passing that Lebon’s views on crowd behaviour have been quoted at length in the Hong Kong Police Manual. For effectively dealing with crowds and violent situations, officers and men have to be rigorously trained to remain calm and unrattled in the face of grave provocations. In Japan, the Kidotai, (riot police) are trained to remain calm and unruffled under utmost pressure.
Undoubtedly, discipline is stretched to the breaking point when men, tired and hungry, are forced to remain passive in the face of abusive taunts and physical attacks. Therefore, rigorous training is necessary for officers and men to overcome overreaction and panicky use of force. However, these days, because of over deployment and pressure of challenging duties, training of the central armed forces is being increasingly neglected.
Consequently, there is a steep decline in their efficiency and reflexes and they tend to run berserk at the slightest provocation. Over deployment combined with lack of training are eroding the efficiency and elan of the armed forces battalions. Thus, there is need for setting up dedicated, well trained and committed units in each of the paramilitary forces to deal with law and order situations and crowd disorder.
If that is not always possible, officers and men should be regularly trained in the techniques of crowd management. As far as CISF deployment is concerned, it may be noted that CISF officers and men function mainly in industrial establishments and installations, airports and other sensitive projects. CISF is not normally deployed on duties where they have to confront angry mobs. But of late, as paramilitary forces are being increasingly deployed for miscellaneous duties like guarding election booths etc. wherein, they may have to confront huge unruly crowds, proper training to deal with such situations is of utmost importance. Otherwise we may have to witness repetition of many more Sitalkuchis.