Status of Policing in Meghalaya

Patricia Mukhim

The drama played out in Kolkata in the tug of war between the CBI and West Bengal Police and the shallow award ceremony thereafter, leaves us with no doubt at all that the Police today owe their allegiance to the political executives and not to the Constitution of India to which they had sworn allegiance upon their entry into the service. This leaves us in Meghalaya with a question: Is the police here acting independently or kowtowing to the diktat of their political bosses?

Meghalaya experienced turbulent times when militancy was at its height (1994-2001) (2010-2016). Meghalaya Police rose to the occasion and many officers and men rendered commendable services then. But that does not mean that there were no rogue policemen even at the time who instead of hot pursuit of militants, were hands in glove with them. No wonder the late Sohan Shira had several narrow escapes because he was invariably tipped off by sources within the Police. What is regrettable is that many from the Police including some bright, young, dedicated officers lost their lives fighting militancy. The name of Raymond Philip Diengdoh comes to mind. He was the first police officer from North East India to be conferred with the Ashok Chakra India’s highest peacetime gallantry award in 2008. Raymond showed exemplary courage fighting militancy and died on duty. Those were challenging years for the Meghalaya Police and many tough battles were fought then with the HNLC and the GNLA. But one must also admit that the Police then were given a free hand to tackle the militants. There was no backseat driving. As the Home Minister then, RG Lyngdoh used multiple strategies but never sent this men out with their hands tied.

Now we have entered the era of peace. This is actually the time to put in place systems to sustain the peace. The state police leadership had succeeded to a great extent in neutralizing organised criminal gangs disguised as militant outfits. Thanks to the political and police leadership peace now prevails. Hence the Meghalaya Police leadership needs to focus on sustaining and strengthening this hard-earned peace through institutional approach. Alas! The current police leadership under Mr Chandranathan doesn’t seem to have such a vision. The DGP is limited by lack of in-depth knowledge about Meghalaya. He has never served here in his three decades of policing. What is not easy to understand is why he was para-dropped by the present MDA government to head the Meghalaya Police.

As a people we too have no clue about Chandranathan’s policing prowess that earned him the top job here. All we know is that he was the Home Minister, James Sangma’s personal choice. Can we therefore ask the Home Minister to educate us as to why and how Mr Chandranathan scored over other officers and why he is considered DGP material?

Peace time policing is as tough and as demanding as policing during troubled times but we have not heard Chandranathan come up with any initiatives to strengthen peace-time policing. As things stand today, it is distressing to note that corruption has crept back into the Meghalaya Police rank and file after Chandranathan took over as the Police Chief. When corruption is institutionalised and systemic, the leader should be held accountable. Many plum postings are given to the highest bidders. Some private suppliers from Shillong are deeply engaged in managing postings and transfers in the Police department. This is a new trend that was kept under check by Dr SB Singh but has now resurfaced. It’s unclear whether he is in the know of these developments or whether he thinks it’s safer to turn a blind eye to these goings-on. And he can well get away by saying that he did not know of past misdemeanours in the Department since he never served in Meghalaya.

Peace-time policing demands concerted efforts from the DGP and his close-knit team. The conviction rate in heinous crimes like rape, dacoity, robbery, murder is abysmally low. Police presence at odd hours at crime prone areas is non-existent; police patrols on the highways is more about collecting money from errant truck drivers carrying coal illegally, than in crime prevention.  The unabated coal mining and transportation of the extracted coal shows the tacit support of police for people engaged in these unlawful activities. Mr Chandranathan perhaps lacks imagination and initiatives to contain organized collection by police from coal barons. Or was he brought in on the condition that he would not interfere with this carefully oiled machinery?

A professional, no-nonsense cop is known by his team. A good team also means professional commitment and ability to function without political pressure. Today the DGP is surrounded by police officers of questionable integrity and doubtful professionalism. From the transfer orders issued by the Home Department, it is evident that good officers have been quietly sidelined from pivotal posts like administration, operations etc and loose- limbed, incompetent officers are put to man these crucial posts. This is a clear indication of the direction of policing under the present DGP. The Police as a force comprise the good, bad and ugly. There are a few with missionary zeal and others who are hard core mercenaries; more so those that entered the service after paying money and this has been going on for a long time in Meghalaya. Choosing mercenaries of doubtful integrity as team members speaks volumes about the kind of policing we now have in Meghalaya since March 2018.

Discreet enquiries reveal that an officer who was suspended for serious misconduct when he caused an accident in Nagaland in an inebriated condition is now one of the core team members of police leadership. This officer was shunted out of Police Headquarters for nearly six years, to insulate the Department from unhealthy influences. Now the same officer is calling the shots. Another two officers, whose professional commitment was compromised because of their political affiliations, are now part of the DG’s closed circle. With such a crack (ed) team what can we, the people of Meghalaya, expect from the Meghalaya Police?

But should the public keep silent and allow the Police to continue with poor policing with shamefully low conviction rate even while drawing handsome salaries? Sometimes we wonder if there is any policing at all considering that the investigations are nearly always botched up and torn apart by astute criminal lawyers. But time has come for civil society to hold the entire police fraternity accountable to the people through the following measures.

  1. A quick response Dial 100 system and commitment from the DGP that police will attend to all distress calls 24X7 and bring down the time for police to reach a crime scene to the barest minimum in all the district capitals to begin with. There is no such commitment from the DGP as on date.

  1. Publish the current conviction rate in cases of rape, murder, dacoity, robbery, assault, theft and other heinous crimes. And then give a commitment that conviction rate will be reduced to 50% or more across all the crimes to begin with.

  1. Traffic management with a committed team to enforce traffic rules. Please publish the traffic accident data and make traffic police accountable to the state. As of now the Traffic Police boss in the district seems to monitor traffic movement on the computer screen at the Police Reserve. Several times the irresponsible parking of traffic on both sides of the Rynjah-Umpling Road has been brought to his notice but there has been no perceptible change. People continue to violate parking rules because there are no traffic cops to man the traffic on this stretch.

As a newcomer to Meghalaya and posted at the helm of policing affairs, this DGP has huge advantage of changing the rules of the game provided he has the will to do so.

Of course we citizens don’t expect miracles from the police. Our expectations are basic and elementary. If the DGP cannot fulfill these elementary expectations then what is policing all about?

Our basic expectations are;

  1. Courteous behaviour from cops working both in the Police Station and on duty.

  1. Prompt attention to phone calls in PCR and ensuring that cops attend to distress calls/situations in the least possible time.

  1. When an FIR is registered, the complainant or his/her relative should be informed of the progress made in the investigation. Whether the case is finally resolved or not matters, but a progress report is what a complainant expects.

  1. Police should refrain from using filthy, unparliamentary language against people as well as the accused (who is not guilty until proven so).

  1. To uphold human rights by informing the accused the grounds of his/her arrest and his/her rights to inform a lawyer or relatives.

  1. Last but not least we expect a prompt registration of FIRs at the police station

From the investigating cops we want a time-bound investigation of all crimes leading to an iron-clad  charge-sheet. Investigating a crime is serious business requiring an incisive mind; not one turned blunt with alcohol. The investigation into the attempted murder of Agnes and Amita by Nidamon Chullet and his mob shows just how blunted our policing system is; how can cops give credence to what an accused is saying and put the blame on the victims of his crime. We don’t deserve this shoddy policing!

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