Ahead of completing two years in office, Devendra Fadnavis was widely criticised for his handling of the threat to the release of Karan Johar’s film, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, and for “brokering” a deal with the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) and the filmmakers.
The criticism of Fadnavis has been pronounced in this case, as it was in a few others too this year, considering that the chief minister is in charge of the home department too, unlike during the previous government when his predecessor had felt hemmed in with oversight of the department that was with alliance partner NCP. Besides dubbing his role in the ADHM controversy as unconstitutional, Maharashtra’s Opposition parties have over the course of the year slammed Fadnavis for his handling of law and order in different cases, be it the protests following the brutal rape and murder of a minor girl in Kopardi village of Ahmednagar district, or the transfer of Chhota Rajan case to the CBI. Similarly, the CM had to backtrack on a draft internal security law after resistance from activists and political parties to some of its provisions.
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But one of the positives has been in terms of convictions — an area where the state has been a laggard for a while. The conviction rate of IPC cases in September 2016, as per records with the CID, stands at 33.41 per cent — a huge improvement from 2012 when it was the lowest in the country at 9.4 per cent, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. In the last two years, there has been a surge — 19.32 per cent in 2014 and 32.99 per cent in 2015.
For a home minister, whose most crucial role is accountability to people’s safety, these numbers indicate efficiency and a greater sense of urgency in bringing a criminal to justice.
However, going beyond these numbers, the Devendra Fadnavis government, and especially Fadnavis as the home minister, may have a lot of corrective steps to take, to ensure he is “not always wearing a political hat” while dealing with the state’s security and law and order.
The CM’s biggest challenge next year will be to translate the upgraded surveillance infrastructure into quick police responses. For now, everyone agrees that the police are better equipped. The challenge now is to see how the force handles the new upgrades — and also to ensure that there is no police excess.
The CCTV project is today seen as Fadnavis’s biggest achievement, with 5,000 cameras now feeding fresh visuals
every second to the Mumbai Police Control Room. Experts believe that the next stage will be the crucial one when
the feeds are linked to the crime records. To be fair, the government moved at a fast pace on both projects — in Pune and Mumbai. For Pune, the office of the additional chief secretary (home), gave a letter of comfort to the banks, a first, to ensure release of funds and that the project was not caught in a deadlock. Further, special powers of the urban development department were invoked to ensure that 289 roads were dug even during the monsoon so that the project progressed smoothly. Payment schemes were redrafted unit wise in terms of geography to ensure that all phases went according to plan.
The senior police hierarchy — mindful of the bureaucratic tangle during the previous government between a Congress chief minister and an NCP home minster — says these changes may not appear impressive on the face of it but did help significantly in getting the project off the ground. The idea of surveillance may be new to Maharashtra, but field officers say visuals help in patrolling a city that has a skewed police-to-person ratio but has to cope with the challenge of several security issues.
ACS, Home, K P Bakshi has an interesting anecdote on Crime and Criminal Tracking Networks and Systems (CCTNS) — perceived as a project pushed by this government. “It was launched in 2009, but nothing had moved till 2014. Frankly, in 2015, the Centre too had a zero budget for the project as most states had purchased hardware, with not much shaping in the software purchases and integration. Of the total Rs 225 crore assigned for Maharashtra, just the purchase of bandwidth came to Rs 5 crore. We committed to the service providers internally and later when the project training and everything was in place we went to New Delhi to ask for Rs 56 crore — a cost incurred in the initial stage. The Centre finally helped us, but it’s only then that the zero budget got converted with other states also being asked to follow Maharashtra model,” he said.
Experts both within the police force and outside believe this is a positive step in policing — with most crime
convictions relying on the history of antecedents. Till date, a total of 4,34,161 FIRs have been digitised. The cyber network — another new step — is being watched carefully, as it opens laboratories across the state. As many as 43 units of cyber laboratories in the state.
In an election state, and with a history of communal tensions, the biggest challenge is to have a mechanism to curb social media created riots, and communal strife, which the state is yet to plan. The one update though is that with additional manpower and a trained staff working out of a designated cyber unit, the state police can expect more teeth in the manner they dispose of the cyber complaints.
The home department has now moved to empower police stations to register and investigate a cyber crime. There is also a view that to reflect good governance, the state has to exhibit greater zeal in the manner it deals with graft cases. The ACB’s 2016 figures alone show 824 cases — where Rs 1,80,64,823 exchanged hands as bribe, and where the disproportionate assets were found to be in the total of Rs 215,11,08,638.