The Haryana home department was a “washout”, the director general of police failed to lead from the front, and the additional chief secretary (home) could not produce even one page of directions he may have issued to deputy commissioners and senior police officials in the district during the violent Jat agitation that rocked the state for a week in February.
These are among the findings of the Prakash Singh committee appointed by the Haryana government to probe the administrative and police failures during the violence that claimed 30 lives and left to the destruction of public and private property on a massive scale.
The findings, in a 451-page report by Singh, a retired IPS officer and former DGP of Uttar Pradesh, which the Haryana government has not made public as yet, are timely. They have emerged ahead of a threat by Jat leaders who want to renew their agitation from June 5.
Criticising the administrative paralysis that gripped Haryana during the riots that claimed 30 lives, the report says the “highest functionaries” in the government failed to show “the kind of guidance, direction and control” that is expected in a crisis of such proportions. It indicts 90 police and administrative officers for their failure to act.
The report does not blame Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, but holds previous chief ministers responsible for the tendency to centralise all powers in their office, thus eroding the powers of the administration.
Singh submitted the report to the Haryana government on May 13. Khattar had earlier said his government would make the report public, but later, he appeared to backtrack, saying the government will first study the report. It has, however, transferred four IPS and three IAS officers, including the then additional chief secretary (home) and director general of police, and suspended three officers of the Haryana Civil Services and 10 deputy superintendents of police. All are named in the report.
On Monday, the government submitted the report in the Punjab & Haryana High Court at a hearing of the suo motu case on the alleged Murthal gangrape during the Jat agitation. The two-judge bench returned it to the government lawyers after a brief perusal of its contents.
The report, a copy of which has been reviewed by The Indian Express, confirms earlier reports in this newspaper about some of the findings of the committee. It has found that officers displayed cowardice, or hesitated to take strong action for fear that they would not be supported by the government, or deliberately avoided doing so because they had “a caste bias” which translated on the ground into “inaction against the rioters, connivance with the vandals, absence from duty/ desertion, abetment of the hooligans”.
Singh also found that while there was no direction from the senior-most officials, a number of officers subscribed to the “philosophy of chedogey to badhega”, arguing that taking action against the rioters would have led to graver consequences.
“What was lacking was the will to act, the determination to prevent riotous mobs from assembling in the first instance and then dealing with them effectively while they were committing acts of violence, arson, loot or vandalism… officers at the district level, barring a few honourable exceptions, just did not rise to the occasion. They were either unequal to the daunting situation they faced or they could not mobilise the full strength of the officers and men under their command, some of whom went missing or deserted their duties,” says the report, describing the situation as “a horrific picture”.
Singh has found that the two officers who matter the most in the state, the additional chief secretary (home) and the director general of police, fell short of what could be expected of them in such a situation. The home department did not issue any directions on the handling of the crisis, while the DGP, Yash Pal Singal, (no longer in the post) did not visit any of the affected areas, and also did not permit the next highest ranked officer to do so.
The then ACS (Home) P K Das (he too is no longer in the post), told Singh that he had issued directions on WhatsApp. “Social media is a useful channel. However… it should be used to supplement the regular time-tested, official channels and not to substitute it,” the report notes. It also points out that there was no state control room during the riots, contrary to standard practice across the country in such situations.
Das explained to the committee “the institutional decay in Haryana and the erosion in the authority of the home department”.
When contacted by The Indian Express, Das said, “I will only comment when the government makes the report public.” Singal did not answer calls.
The report concludes that “over the years, the former chief ministers, with a view to concentrating powers in their own office, eroded the authority of certain institutions. The office of the chief secretary in the state does not command the power or enjoy the prestige it does in most other states. The home department also plays a somewhat subsidiary role in matters relating to law and order. These distortions needs to be corrected,” to prevent a repeat of similar paralysis in the future.
Singal told the committee that he was unwell on those days. “The DGP found time to visit the places affected by violence on February 23 and 24. It would have been better if he had visited by chopper at least the districts worst affected while the agitation was at its peak. The committee was also disappointed that the DGP did not even have a video conference with the SPs when they were battling a very critical law and order situation. A police chief is expected to lead from the front in a crisis situation. Yash Pal Singal unfortunately did not give that impression,” says the report.
The committee also found that the DGP did not even allow additional director general of police (law and order), Muhammad Akil, to go around the districts and “under the circumstances, the additional DG (law and order) cannot be faulted.”
Singh, who was assisted by two serving officers of the Haryana government, Director General of Police K P Singh, and Vijai Vardhan, Additional Chief Secretary, Higher Education, Archives and Cultural Affairs Department, completed the report in 70 days.