Hardlook: The Transporters, in khaki

Mahender Singh Manral takes a close look at the unit where postings are a viewed as “punishment”, but one without which the system won’t work.

Written by Mahender Singh Manral | New Delhi | Updated: October 5, 2015 6:30 am
battalion , battalion personnel, hardlook, delhi hardlook, undertrial battalion prisoners, delhi news, delhi police, indian express It is a pre-dawn start every day for Delhi Armed Police 3rd Battalion personnel. Work begins after an early briefing session. (Express Photo by Praveen Khanna)

This is no popular movie franchise. Hence, there is little glamour in the transporting 3rd Battalion personnel do. In charge of ferrying convicts and undertrial prisoners, the unit finds itself in the spotlight following the murder of two undertrials in a moving prison van. Now, it has decided to revamp strategy. Mahender Singh Manral takes a close look at the unit where postings are a viewed as “punishment”, but one without which the system won’t work.

On August 25, undertrial prisoners Vikram Paras alias Goldy and Pradeep Bhola, key members of the dreaded Neetu Dabodia gang, were allegedly killed by seven gang rivals including notorious gangster Neeraj Bawana in a moving prison van.

The crime, when the prisoners were being taken to Tihar Jail from Rohini court, saw Delhi Armed Police 3rd Battalion face criticism. Subsequently, senior officers of the battalion, which transports nearly 1,575 prisoners every day in Delhi and NCR, decided to change their work strategy.

After the murders, a ‘Jan-Sampark Sabha’ was held at the battalion’s office in Vikaspuri. Shivendra Kant Tewari, Deputy Commissioner of Police, 3rd Battalion, addressed more than 600 colleagues. There was no shying away from the jail van murders.

Capture 1DCP Tewari asked the personnel to “rethink” before providing any help to any prisoner and requested them to work with respect and dignity, as they are the “unsung heroes” of Delhi Police. The battalion has its guard up now and hit the refresh button. Here is the lowdown on five new decisions.

Extra hand inside jail van with camera and megaphone
Security personnel inside jail vans of “very very high-risk prisoners” and “high-risk prisoners” will get one more colleague, who will record videos when the van leaves for court from jails and while returning to keep track of vehicles possibly following them constantly. This official will also carry a megaphone to be used if someone is constantly following the jail van. First, he has to make a public announcement and then call the police control room about the vehicle.The decision was taken after investigation into the jail van murders revealed it was possibly an attempt to help Bawana escape. Three cars had followed the jail van that day after it left the Rohini court. The police, however, do not have any evidence against Bawana’s associates. Earlier, the battalion personnel took a videographer for undertrial prisoners on parole period and “very very high-risk prisoners” and “prisoners of high profile cases”.

Inspector-rank officer to analyse threat perception
An inspector-rank officer has been appointed to analyse threat perception to high-profile undertrial prisoners and provide inputs to the assistant commissioner of police (ACP) posted with the Central Jail. This will enable the ACP to share information with the jail authority during review committee meetings, which discuss the addition and deletion of names in various categories of prisoners. The inspector-rank officer will also share threat inputs with battalion officials, in-charge of jail vans, court and jail lock-ups. The officer will also conduct surprise visits to jail vans and check CCTV cameras. When Paras and Bhola were killed, the van’s camera was not working.

Appointment of in-charge of technical equipment
An inspector-rank officer has been appointed as in-charge of technical equipment and asked to check all equipment of jail van before releasing them. The officer has to check all the cameras, alarm and locks of all the jail vans every morning and can stop a vehicle if anything is found amiss.

Route survey
After nearly three years, the battalion recently conducted a route survey for jail vans and decided to use new map. According to insiders, the survey was necessary because most offenders know usual routes and also pass lewd remarks at women. The survey has also helped do away with areas where Metro construction work would force van drivers to change routes. Keeping in mind the threat perception, the battalion has a Rakshak, a bullet-proof vehicle for ferrying terrorists.

CapturePermission for handcuff and video-conferencing
The battalion has now decided to move applications vigorously before courts, seeking permission to handcuff and fetter dreaded criminals, especially those under the category of “very very high-risk prisoner” and “high-risk prisoner”. A few days after the jail van murders, officials took permission from court to handcuff and fetter Bawana while transporting him . The officials have also decided to seek permission from courts for video-conferencing of the accused from Tihar and Rohini jails. The court will be informed about the latest threat input regarding the prisoner involved.
‘Takes patience, courage to deal with abusive, aggressive prisoners’

At 4.15 am on a Monday morning, 52-year-old head constable Ramesh Kumar was at his office in the 3rd Battalion of the Delhi Armed Police (DAP) in West Delhi’s Vikaspuri, attending a briefing session.

Kumar had left his Najafgarh village home at about 3 am and to report at work at 3.45 am. Unlike other police officials, Kumar and his colleagues in the battalion have to follow an army-like regimen, say insiders. Life in the battalion is like being at war for its more than 1,800 personnel, they add.

Kumar’s job to ferry prisoners from Tihar and Rohini jails to various courts and back, seemingly simple, is a challenge each time. Besides physical strength, it requires a great degree of presence of mind; not to forget the responsibility. Every day, the battalion personnel ferry as many as 1,540 prisoners in nearly 70 vans.
“I have been in police services for around 30 years. However, this last one year of my job with the 3rd Battalion has been different. It is different from usual policing. All kinds of prisoners, from petty criminals to high-risk offenders, are ferried. They are abusive and aggressive. It takes great patience and courage to deal with them till the time they are brought back safe to prison,” says Kumar.

“Common people are not aware about our job profile and some people from our department considered 3rd battalion posting as a punishment, but it’s a very sensitive job and we are working round-the clock to produce the prisoner, some in other states,” he adds.

After joining the 3rd Battalion, officials have a 10-day induction course which takes them through intricacies of court production of undertrial prisoners, searching and frisking, crowd management, safety precautions and how to control their own anger.

Jitender Kumar Singh, another constable in the battalion, says his family has been complaining about his routine. “My children complain I do not spend time with them. The duty hours are odd and the risk, every day, is high. They remain worried about my coming back home,” he adds.

Many constables and head constables have bachelor’s and master’s degree, and one each have a law degree and an MBA. The rough behaviour of the people they transport often touches a raw nerve.

Yograj Ahlawat, a B.Sc graduate, who was recently posted to the battalion, says, “It is derogatory the way prisoners abuse us. At times, they spit at police personnel. One does not expect to be disrespected and can lose patience, but we have to keep our cool and that is the challenge we have to meet.”
Perception of punishment posting is incorrect: DCP

Being deployed in this unit is considered a punishment posting. What do you have to say about it?
3rd Battalion, Delhi Armed Police, has one of the most challenging assignments in Delhi Police. It boasts of some of the most capable and efficient officers. Other elite units of Delhi Police such as Crime Branch, Special Cell keenly seek the officers of this battalion. The perception of 3rd Battalion being a punishment posting is factually incorrect.

What are the challenges the 3rd Battalion faces in terms of manpower and equipment?
The challenges are manifold. The number of undertrial prisoners (UTPs), both local and interstate criminals, is rapidly increasing, whereas there is a time lag in the proportionate increase in manpower and transport resources of 3rd Battalion. The staff of this Bn. produce undertrial prisoners all over the country and render assistance to other state police forces arriving with their prisoners in Delhi for court production. The increase in hospital admission, custodial paroles etc., further burdened us. The 3rd Battalion also restores children all over the country on the orders of the court. The challenges are also of time and space. The increasing number of UTPs is causing space constraint at lock-ups and jail vans. The challenges are mounting, but aren’t insurmountable.

How are requisitions done?
The 3rd Battalion has got a third party job audit done by BPR&D to get a fair assessment of manpower and equipment requirements. The recommendations have been forwarded to the Ministry of Home Affairs. To overcome the shortfall in manpower and equipment, latest technologies, which act as force multiplier, are being deployed. The budget of 3rd Bn. is proportionately getting enhanced.

The jail van incident has been widely analysed. Who do you think was at fault?
It would be premature to offer my comments on the unfortunate incident, as the inquiry report is awaited.

What is your strategy to deal with situations such as high-profile prisoners trying to lure personnel?
The staff is regularly briefed and rotated so that the opportunity to develop any nexus with any prisoner is eliminated. The battalion does not classify any prisoner as high-profile. The prisoners are classified on the basis of threat perception. However, in cases where we feel any prisoner is likely to indulge in mischief, we deploy a videographer to cover the movement from jail to court and back, if video-conferencing is not feasible.
Weakness In Numbers: Too few guard too many; those transferred yet to join duty

The 3rd Battalion faces a staff crunch more often that not, but the situation worsens when officials transferred to the unit do not join. The statistics of Delhi Police reveal the sanctioned strength of constables and head constables is 1,885, but the present strength is 1,726. On paper, however, the number of personnel is 1,925.

“There are 354 officials who got transferred here, but they have still not reported for duty. Due to this, 548 personnel of the battalion have not been relieved,” a senior police officer said.

Citing a study conducted a year ago by the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D), DCP S K Tewari said the battalion was more than 3,500 personnel short of its required strength.

“The BPR&D had recommended 3,714 more personnel in the 3rd Battalion DAP, where we currently work with a strength of only 1,925 personnel,” he added.

The battalion was formed in 1967 with 1,150 personnel. In 1970, they were tasked with escorting undertrial prisoners. At that point, there were around 1,300 prisoners lodged in both the jails. However, after 45 years, the strength of the battalion is 1,885, but the number of prisoners in jails has risen to 45,030, as per records.

What’s more, police personnel at the battalion believe they constantly work under threat of suspension.

“As the Supreme Court has imposed a ban on the use of handcuff and fetters, we transport prisoners, sometimes to other states, holding them by their hand. Desperate criminals sometimes manage to escape from custody after pushing us. We get suspended and, at times, other state police also register a case against us. This is very unfortunate for us,” said constable Yograj Saini.

The Reserve Inspector of the battalion, Bakshi Ram, who was earlier posted with several police stations as SHO, told his colleagues during a briefing, “The work profile of 3rd Battalion is totally different and it is a very sensitive job. Our personnel work round-the-clock and in return prisoners humiliate them in front of their colleagues.”

“We are doing different job for our country and should feel proud. All Delhi Police officials will get a fresh understanding of responsibility once they come to the battalion,” he added.

Plans afoot

1. Semi-indoor baffle (firing) range: Now, 3rd Battalion personnel have to go to Police Training College in Jharoda Kalan, 30 km away from their office
2. Purchase of 132 mobile phones: For use of escort teams deployed for outstation court duties
3. Creation of integrated command control centre and installation of CCTVs to enable monitoring of live feeds from entrances of jails and court lock-ups
4. Installation of two-way communication facility between the front and rear cabins in 56 jail vans
5. Installation of vehicle tracking system in all the vans on hiring basis for coming three years

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