In front of the gate announcing Vanigam village,70 kms from Ahmedabad city,stands a horse carrying a policeman in full uniform,his .303 rifle holstered on the saddle. After a quick stroll,the policeman rises in his stirrups and the horse trots towards the farmland spread across hundreds of acres,leaving a trail of dust behind. Minutes later,they stop in the middle of a cotton field,the rider looking long and hard at his surroundings.
Things have gone well this harvesting season. There has not been a single untoward incident, says the policeman,Sureshbhai Zunza.
Zunza and his colleague,Virendrasinh Jhala,are constables in Ahmedabad districts 16-member mounted police force who go from village to village to protect crops from thieves and animals.
Over the past two years,they have served in dozens of villages across the district with their horses,Anjus and Kamini. Their deployment in any particular village is based on complaints by villagers to the districts Superintendent of Police.
Not not far from the emerging automobile hub of Sanand,Vanigam and neighbouring villages have been facing problems of theft of crops and animals damaging harvests.
Villagers blame local cattle-rearers and some particular communities,sometimes leading to violent clashes. The two-month-long deployment of mounted cops in the village for the last five years seem to have paid off and such incidents have come down drastically.
There is a police station about 10 km from the village (Viramgam rural),but locals say its not effective. Cattle-rearers leave their animals in our fields to graze and destroy our crops. The other problem is theft of crops from the fields,largely in those that border the field of other villages. Sometimes,when we catch the thieves,big fights break out, said Bharat Sindhav,a Vanigam resident.
Vanigam,Kakarwadi,Ranmalpur and Navagam,all adjoining villages,had approached the Ahmedabad district police for help. After repeated requests,the two mounted policemen were deployed in the village.
This service is not free. We have to pay Rs 7,000 for two months to the district police. Besides,we have to take care of the policemens and horses food and lodging, Sindhav said.
So,does it help?
Of course,it does. Villagers are quite scared of policemen. In fact,the very presence of mounted police in the village creates a deterrence and nobody causes any trouble, says Sindhav.
Presently,eight pairs of mounted policemen are deployed across Ahmedabad district. Each pair looks after five to six villages. Apart from Viramgam,mounted police are deployed in Detroj,Mandal,Koth and Barwala talukas.
There is a lot of demand for mounted police,but we are short-staffed. We have 16 horses,but and we need 40, said DH Chandrarao,a police sub inspector of the mounted police.
According to Ahmedabad districts SP Rajiv Ranjan Bhagat,the results have been overwhelming mainly because it has reduced conflict between villagers in the district.
There are incidents when a big farmer would use animals to damage the crops of small or poor farmers which could lead to major feuds. These mounted policemen help check such incidents. We have been booking offenders regularly, he said.