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Friday, April 16, 2021

Political patronage of corrupt police officers is playing havoc with the system: Retired Mumbai IPS officer

Retired IPS officer Meeran Chadha Borwankar speaks about the present crisis of credibility faced by the Mumbai Police over its former CP levelling corruption charges on the Home Minister and its handling of the Antilia bomb scare and Mansukh Hiran murder case, her experience in dealing with so-called encounter experts and the need for police reforms.

Written by Jayprakash S Naidu | Mumbai |
Updated: March 22, 2021 7:55:38 am
Political patronage of corrupt police officers is playing havoc with the system: Retired Mumbai IPS officerRetired IPS officer Meeran Chadha Borwankar, the first woman officer to have helmed Mumbai's Crime Branch. (File Photo)

Retired IPS officer Meeran Chadha Borwankar, the first woman officer to have helmed Mumbai’s Crime Branch, speaks to The Indian Express about the present crisis of credibility faced by the Mumbai Police over its former CP levelling corruption charges on the Home Minister and its handling of the Antilia bomb scare and Mansukh Hiran murder case, her experience in dealing with so-called encounter experts and the need for police reforms.

Former CP Param Bir Singh recently wrote a letter to CM Uddhav Thackeray making grave allegations against Home Minister Anil Deshmukh, alleging how the latter was forcing officers including Sachin Waze to collect Rs 100 crore as funds. Do you think there is any truth in such allegations? What do you make of the whole scenario?

The allegations in the letter definitely need a detailed urgent enquiry. However, my experience in the police has shown that what Singh has alleged is the notorious ‘hafta racket’, where police and politicians are in partnership. Mind you, sometimes reporters and media persons too become part of this racket. If any political leader or police officer says that he is not aware, it is a lie.

This illegal informal system has become so entrenched that one can stay away from it but to breach it would require a total overhaul in the system. Restaurants, shopkeepers, bar owners can be challaned by police, municipal authorities, food and drugs department, etc, for various violations. To avoid the same, they collect a particular amount and pay to designated persons for distribution as per mutually settled terms. Generally, there are no complaints. Only incidents like the current one or dispute over distribution of amount lead to complaints.

I fervently hope that an enquiry in the issues raised in the letter leads to stoppage of this illegal and widespread corrupt practice. This could be the only good outcome of the gory saga of the last 10 days.

NCP chief Sharad Pawar asked former top cop Julio Ribeiro to investigate the whole matter but speaking to The Indian Express, Ribeiro refused the request.

What action needs to be initiated in your personal opinion to set things right and set a strong example to ensure such things are not repeated and Mumbai Police image is not tarnished?

I can only think of an enquiry by an eminent, independent-minded High Court judge within a stipulated time frame. The enquiry must be followed by concrete action at the earliest. Or citizens will lose faith in governance and administration, if they still have any.

What do you make of the present scenario in Mumbai Police?

The present scenario is most unfortunate indeed, but I have no doubt that the force will bounce back soon. Except for a miniscule number of rogue police officers, the rest continue to operate in a professional manner, unaffected by the instant case. Its strength is in different levels of leadership from beat officers, inspectors to assistant, deputy, additional and joint commissioners. They have and will stand their ground and are busy performing their duties earnestly all over Mumbai. To paint the whole organization black because of this incident would be extremely unfair.

Ribeiro in a recent article wrote about how your handling of ‘encounter specialists’ led to a reduction in extortion complaints in Mumbai. Can you elaborate on this?

I was told there were a lot of discussions before posting me in the Crime Branch, Mumbai. The Home Minister, it seems, was repeatedly told ‘she is too straight’, implying I would not be able to handle the Crime Branch. I had already worked for five years as zonal DCP in Mumbai and also in the EOW and Anti-Corruption wings of the Central Bureau of Investigation. I knew the crime investigation part and the challenge was to supervise the so called ‘encounter specialists’ effectively.

I started by defining my policy where honesty was paramount. I was very vocal about it and would repeatedly voice my strong views against Crime Branch officers interfering in civil/land/builders’ disputes, which by then had become a well-oiled money-making mechanism. As for encounters, only if an officer felt that his own life was in danger and as permitted under the right of private defence in the Indian Penal Code. Yes, encounters nose-dived and so did extortion calls, giving us time to concentrate on investigation of serious crime like detection of break-in at Alukkas jewellery shop at Hyderabad, where we recovered gold worth about Rs 7 crore, seizure of about 50 foreign-made revolvers/pistols, ammunition through raids at different places and arrest of gangsters under MCOC Act. Officers concentrated on upgrading technology, documentation and record keeping, which may look like mundane routine jobs but are the pillars of crime detection and investigation.

I could see and feel that our ‘encounter specialists’ had a different and exalted status in the eyes of citizens as well as other officers. But they got no special favour from my office. I did hear murmurs of dissatisfaction, but in my presence decorum of uniform was maintained. I think this equal treatment, based purely on information collection and detection, encouraged other officers to give their best and the Crime Branch became more broad-based in its performance.

In fact, many at that time, including the media, chided me for ‘taking the sheen away’ from the Crime Branch. I am surprised that it is being discussed and applauded today.

Have you come across instances during your tenure when these so-called encounter specialists took advantage of their utility to the organisation and abused their proximity to authority? How did you handle it?

I cannot recall any incident of ‘encounter specialists’ taking advantage of their ‘name and fame’, though I cannot overrule it all together. We would get information about their meetings with political leaders occasionally. The Commissioner of Police, however, was a stickler for rules and frowned upon undue proximity or violating the hierarchy except in emergencies like the train bomb blast of 2006.

My 36 years of police experience show that generally police officers go with the policy of their leader. The confusion of late has been whether leadership is with police or politicians as the latter call shots for postings and transfers. It has encouraged most officers to seek proximity with politicians, though generally they do not risk annoying police leaders either.

Corruption in administration and police too has been an extremely serious issue. For example, we arrested one of our officers working in EOW Mumbai having dinner with a white collar criminal who was an accused in a case being investigated by the officer. Once, in a case of human trafficking where we had applied MCOC, the arrested accused fled from police custody and mailed me a letter informing how much he had paid for absconding. Suspension and disciplinary action followed, sending a strong signal. With a police force of about 45,000, we need a very strong counter-intelligence unit for keeping our own rogue officers under watch. And to take exemplary action at the earliest instead of keeping it pending for decades, as has happened in case of Waze.
Political patronage of corrupt police officers is indeed playing havoc with the system.

How do you see Waze’s reinstatement in the force in spite of him being named in two chargesheets?

Waze’s reinstatement was absolutely wrong. Giving him an executive posting in CIU was a disaster indeed. Within the Crime Branch it is the most sensitive unit and officers are handpicked for this posting. Who selected Waze for this posting is crucial to understand the nexus in the Antilia case.

Do you think ‘encounter specialists’ like Pradeep Sharma or Sachin Waze are an asset or liability to the police force? Can they be allowed in the police force under any circumstances and conditions/restrictions?

We do need officers who are action-oriented, just as we need those who are good in paperwork or those who have propensity for community liaison. But an action-oriented officer does not mean an ‘encounter specialist’, a term coined and romanticised by the media enabling them to flourish. They are assets if they work within the framework of law and a definite liability if they become a law unto themselves. In the latter case, they must be identified and weeded out immediately.

What are police reforms in Maharashtra police department you think must be implemented as soon as possible?

Postings of officers on the basis of merit and not for political alignment. This is from police station level to commissioners of police and the director general. A very strong and well-equipped Anti-Corruption Bureau for all departments of the state.

Fixed eight hours of duty for police so that they can balance their work and personal lives. It is my opinion that, all over the country, police are the most exploited government department in terms of working hours and their condition is worst in megapolitan cities.

There have been issues raised in sections of the police force about the sidelining of officers who are deemed as upright. At the other end you have a set of senior officers who are able to get away in spite of facing many allegations of corruption including hobnobbing with the mafia. Doesn’t this raise questions on the credibility of a professional force?

Absolutely, it does. In the current scenario, if you are close to the ruling party (and this is applicable to all political parties and all states) and ready to work at their behest you will get a plum posting of your choice. Merit and honesty are not the criteria any more. There has been a sharp decline in the integrity scale since the late 1980s. And it has indeed very adversely affected police professionalism.

Citizens should insist that police reforms form an integral part of election manifestos of all political parties and hold them accountable for implementing the same. Only then can we hope for a credible and professional police force.

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