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Thursday, February 25, 2021

Protests online, on ground: Uttarakhand, Bihar are watching for passports, jobs

At a conference of police officers Tuesday, Uttarakhand DGP Ashok Kumar asked the police to maintain a record of people making “anti-national” or “anti-social” posts on social media, with screenshots as evidence.

Written by Santosh Singh , Lalmani Verma | Dehradun, Patna |
Updated: February 4, 2021 1:29:41 pm
The latest order has come under strong criticism by opposition parties. Leader of Opposition Tejashwi Prasad Yadav likened it to the regime of Hitler and Mussolini. (Representational Image)

In a fresh order, the Bihar Police have warned that persons indulging in criminal activities during law and order incidents, protest demonstrations and sadak jaam (disruption of road traffic) and are further named in a chargesheet, would find it difficult to get passports, government jobs, financial grants by the state, or even bank loans.

The order, issued by the Director General of Police, on February 1, said, “All this will be duly mentioned in the Police Verification Report. Such people should be ready for grave consequences.” The order specifies nine services for which police verification is required: arms license, passport, character certificate, contractual jobs in government, work contracts in government departments, boards and commissions, licences for petrol pump and gas agency, government assistance or grant, bank loans, and any other purpose where such a verification is sought.

Taking this a step further, the Uttarakhand Police now plans to monitor and take note of comments made by persons on social media. At a conference of police officers Tuesday, Uttarakhand DGP Ashok Kumar asked the police to maintain a record of people making “anti-national” or “anti-social” posts on social media, with screenshots as evidence.

“Earlier, only FIR was checked, but now a person’s behaviour on social media will also be checked,” he said.

When contacted, he told The Indian Express, “ First, an opportunity will be provided to a person when he makes any such posts by way of counselling. But if a person does not mend his ways, a record of his posts will be maintained. No amendment in any law or rule will be required to start mentioning ‘anti-national’ posts in the police verification.”

To a question what kind of comments will be considered anti-national, Ashok Kumar said, “Whoever is writing against national unity and integrity, that is anti-national.”

In Bihar, the DGP referred to a January 29 circular by Amir Subhani, Additional Chief Secretary, Home Department, asking the DGP and heads of all government departments to issue character certificates to a prospective contractor only after verifying his/ her criminal antecedents. The home department circular, however, did not make any reference to “criminal involvement” during demonstration and protests.

The Bihar Police order comes close on the heels of a circular issued by its Economic Offences Unit on January 22, asking government departments to bring to its notice use of objectionable language against public servants including MPs, MLAs and government officers. While the circular did not propose any suo motu action, the circular said cases under IPC and IT Act provisions could be lodged against any such offender based on a written complaint.

Two days later, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar complained that technology was being misused and that any word on good work done by the government was not reaching the people. At an event to mark the birth anniversary of socialist icon and former Bihar Chief Minister Karpoori Thakur, he said, “Technology is to be used for good, but it is being misused… Anti-social work is being done on social media. This is sending a wrong message to the younger generation.”

The latest order has come under strong criticism by opposition parties. Leader of Opposition Tejashwi Prasad Yadav likened it to the regime of Hitler and Mussolini. “Nitish Kumar is offering a challenge to Hitler and Mussolini by ordering that any protest against the government and exercising one’s democratic rights can deprive one of a government job. It means that the government would neither give jobs nor allow one to lodge protest,” he said in a tweet.

Former MP and RJD National Vice President Shivanand Tewari told The Indian Express, “Is it the same Nitish Kumar who had opposed the Press Bill brought by Congress government in Bihar in 1983. He cannot be a true disciple of Lohia and JP, who fought for upholding democratic rights all life.”

When contacted, Bihar Additional DGP (Law and Order) Jitendra Kumar, said: “The Bihar Police order is being wrongly interpreted. The order does not put any curb on one’s democratic right to protest. But if one is involved in any criminal activity in the course of such protests, it will reflect in one’s character certificate.”

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