Gujarat Minister of State for Home Harsh Sanghavi (37) started his career with the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha and rose to become its general secretary. In 2012, he became the youngest MLA after winning the first Assembly election he contested. Reflecting the party’s trust in him, Sanghavi holds the portfolios of Home, Disaster Management and Police Housing, and Sports, Youths and Cultural Activities as MoS, apart from Independent charge of Excise and Prohibition, Border Security and Prisons, and was given additional charge of Revenue recently, after Rajendra Trivedi was stripped of the portfolio.
Sanghavi, who has declared that the police would not penalise people for minor traffic offences till October 27, speaks about the decision, which the Opposition has described as “revadi”, and his other plans for the police force. Excerpts:
* How did you get into politics?
SANGHAVI: I come from a non-political background, from a family in the diamond business, and started working for the party as a youth worker. I never dreamt of contesting elections or becoming a minister. While working in the BJYM as general secretary, I got an opportunity to travel across the country and meet different youth wing leaders. Later I got the opportunity to contest Assembly polls, and also got a chance to hold different responsibilities.
I feel a lot of challenges and responsibilities were put on my shoulders at such a young age. To fulfill the same, struggle, hard work and determination are necessary. I never thought I would get such responsibilities as Home, Revenue etc. It is true that the BJP trusts its workers with big responsibilities.
* What are the challenges you have faced as MoS, Home?
SANGHAVI: At first, my attitude was to do more social work than politics. I also tried to do the same in the police department. We know that drug menace has increased in western countries. Our PM (Prime Minister Narendra Modi) and UHM (Union Home Minister Amit Shah) gave a call to fight against drugs, and after becoming MoS, Home, on the first Saturday and Sunday, I called a meeting with senior IPS officers on how to frame a drugs (seizure) reward policy and stop the drug menace in Gujarat.
The Central government already had such a reward policy and Gujarat is the first state in the country that framed its own. We have seen major success with this policy and, in over a year, arrested around 700 members of the drug mafia, including 30 Pakistani nationals and Iran nationals. We also managed to get information on drug rackets not only in Gujarat but also Kolkata and on the drug lords lodged in Punjab jails. We acted on it and have got results.
The reason behind such major seizures is the new political system in Afghanistan… The credit of the anti-drug drive in Gujarat does not go to me (alone), it is teamwork starting from top to low-rank officials.
I take meetings with senior IPS officers thrice a week and make a note of the work done against drugs and get all the data. I congratulate officials personally to boost their morale.
* What is the logic behind not collecting fines for traffic offences from October 21 to October 27?
SANGHAVI: Let’s take the example of a diamond polisher or textile labourer who returns home after day-long hard work. He takes his wife and family to do shopping for Diwali from the savings of his hard-earned money. They shop from roadside stalls from small shopkeepers. If he does not possess a driving licence, or wears no helmet, or rides on the wrong side etc, and is caught by cops, he has to pay a penalty of Rs 1,000. He gets disturbed, which affects the festival celebrations. Even small shopkeepers lose business. So, after a great deal of thinking, we have come up with this decision of not charging a penalty from the vehicle riders. Along with this, we have started a drive to catch drivers who do stunts as well as over-speeding bikers on the Surat-Dumas road. They are caught and legal steps are taken.
There are political leaders who have started doing politics on such decisions, but we are not afraid. We have not given the right to violate traffic rules, we stop such offenders and give them a rose. Our police team explains to them that they are earning members of their family and their life is valuable, and that they have saved Rs 1,000. That if something happens to them, their families’ lives will be affected.
* What is being done to check the increase in cases of sexual abuse, especially of minors?
SANGHAVI: We lead the country where maintenance of law and order is concerned. At the DG conferences across the country, the PM and UHM have emphasised ensuring speedy trials in POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act) cases. We have accepted the call as a challenge and ensured that important evidence is collected, chargesheets filed before time, and the culprits punished. We have been successful in getting accused convicted.
* The Opposition has attacked the government over the recent hooch tragedy in Ahmedabad. Officials dubbed it a case of ‘chemical poisoning’.
SANGHAVI: It was an unfortunate incident and many lives were lost. Ten days prior to the incident, our police teams had carried out a drive and raided nearby places and seized hooch and other ingredients. Whether we call it a chemical tragedy or hooch tragedy, it is our primary responsibility to get the culprits strictly punished. We successfully filed a chargesheet in 10 days, ensuring that the culprits do not get bail or take advantage of the law and that when the trial ends, the accused are convicted.
* What steps are needed, according to you, to improve police functioning?
SANGHAVI: There should be no gap between the police and the public. The police are like a friend of the public. Cops spend most of their time with complainants and criminals and, sometimes, society has high expectations from the police, but due to their stressful work and life, they cannot meet them… In Surat, I went personally to different areas and met people. I have taken details from the Surat police and got data on different incidents. We wanted to make the police public-oriented and work on it is in progress.
Senior police officials have started interacting with citizens on morning walk and become friendly with them. During such talks, our senior officials also get new ideas and tips.