IT’S 39 degrees Celsius outside, a little cooler than it has been the past few days. Under a slow-moving fan, surrounded by piles upon piles of furniture, registers and documents, a row of creaking steel cupboards, and weapons rusting inside mouldy clothes, Harindra Rajbhar is sweating. On paper, this is an ‘open office’ of the Mehrauli Police Station, one of Delhi’s oldest police stations, dating back to the pre-Independence era. Essentially, all Harindra, who prefers to be called by his first name, has to himself are a table and a chair in a 10X15 ft gallery, placed strategically under that fan.
The 43-year-old head constable is the ‘malkhana in-charge’ of the police station. A malkhana is a store-room to preserve “case properties (evidence)” in all cases registered with a police station, till these are disposed of in court. Some of the case properties under Harindra’s care landed here in the 1800s.
Recently, personnel at Kanjhawala Police Station in Delhi came under the scanner after three cars kept at its malkhana went missing. Harindra has 310 cars in his care, including those seized after the sensational murder of businessman Ponty Chadha, that took place just a few kilometres away. Since the police station has no space, many of the impounded vehicles are parked in a warehouse near the Saket Court complex.
Mehrauli is the largest police station in Delhi’s South District and also one of the city’s busiest. The malkhana is located in a corner of the station, a few metres from the station house officer’s cabin.
It’s 12.20 pm, and Harindra has a visitor who has come to get his motorcycle, that had been seized for rash riding, released. The visitor has the necessary documents, and after checking them, Harindra makes an entry in the fat register he is updating and clears the request. He also calls a local photographer to click a photo as record of the handing over. A big bunch of keys lying next to the register on the table are the only indicator of the crucial cog Harindra plays in the wheels of justice.
A big brown sofa, dressing table and side tables nearby are properties seized from a house in a dowry case. On the shelves above, seized weapons lie wrapped in clothes that have accumulated layers of dust over the years. Deep inside the gallery, hundreds of sacks carry details of FIRs, with the FIR numbers written on them for easy identification. The shelves are marked year-wise, and the most recent seizures are at the front.
“The oldest seized weapon we have is a pistol dating back to 1965. The storeroom also has recovered cash amounting to at least Rs 50 lakh, in both old and new currency, and jewellery worth around Rs 30 lakh. The cases have been on for years, and the evidence keeps piling up in this cramped space,” says Harindra, whose tall, lean frame appears wilted in the small, stuffy space.
When he is not here, the head constable is running around the city making appearances in courts where the cases whose evidence he holds are up for hearing. He mostly uses his motorcycle to travel and hires a mini-tempo if he has to carry the evidence; the department reimburses him for it later. He is also responsible for handing over exhibits collected by forensic science laboratories, in cases under the Mehrauli police’s jurisdiction. At night, he must check all the court summons that have come in that day to make arrangements for the next morning. Besides, Harindra is in-charge of a warehouse nearby in the Police Colony, which is used to store confiscated liquor.
While his official duty hours are from 8 am to 8 pm, the head constable earning nearly Rs 50,000 a month rarely retires for the day before 10 pm. “When the day is over, I just go to my barracks (in the police station) and try to catch some sleep,” says Harindra. He has a TV, but is too tired to watch it.
Each head constable has to serve a year as in-charge of a malkhana during his or her service. However, due to the slow and long procedure of new personnel taking charge and the existing one being relieved, the process takes two to three years. Harindra took over a year ago, after spending eight months under the former malkhana in-charge getting the hang of things.
Today, Harindra has had a bad start to his day. Around 11 am, he left his barracks to meet the ‘district nazir (in-charge of case properties of the city)’ at the Tis Hazari Court to submit some evidence. Tis Hazari is over 22 km away, and Harindra was half-way there when he found out that the district nazir was on leave and he had to return.
Appointed by the Delhi government, the district nazir is in-charge of case properties under all of the city’s police stations.
Three hours later, Harindra is still at his desk, updating his register. “The walls and ceilings are collapsing under seepage. I have to work hard to keep the records and case property safe from rodents, insects and other damage,” he says. “In case of a property missing, I can be booked or have a departmental inquiry lodged against me,” he adds.
Every two days, Harindra visits the Saket Court Complex warehouse to count the vehicles there and update the records.
As Harindra works on the register, he fields calls almost constantly, some from his junior assistant who has gone to the Saket Court to produce case evidence on his behalf. In between, at around 2 pm, he takes a brief break for lunch at the police mess. The menu hardly changes, and Harindra has his usual thali with chapatis, sabzi, dal and curd. He won’t get any more breaks during the day.
At around 3 pm, two people approach him to get their case property released. He tells them calmly to come with photocopies of their court order documents along with an affidavit signed by two witnesses testifying to receipt of the case property. He says they can pick a time to collect their belongings once they have the documents ready.
Even when his office hours are over, Harindra says, he has to be on call. “A case can come up any time, be it the middle of the night. The investigation officer has to make an entry in my register.”
A Class 10 pass, Harindra, who is from Ballia in Uttar Pradesh, joined the Delhi Police in 1995 and was posted in several units before coming to the South District. His family continues to stay in UP, which is why the barracks suit him best, the head constable says. “Besides, I am required here 24X7.”
Harindra goes home twice a year, but these days, it’s never for long. “The workload is heavy and if I take long leave, it starts piling up. I feel it’s tougher for my wife and two children, who have to make do without me,” he says, bending down on his register.