16, Sep 2009
The Times of India
September 16, 2009
‘The crux is politicisation of the policeÂ’ Former Punjab DGP JulioRibeiro has often spoken out against fake encounters, but acknowledges that they took place when he was Mumbai police commissioner in the early 1980s. He talks to Jyoti Punwani about this practice:
Are you shocked at the revelations about the Ishrat Jahan encounter?
No. This has become more or less commonplace. But we need to put an end to the practice because you are making policemen into criminals in uniform, which is much worse than criminals not in uniform. In Mumbai, when encounters had almost stopped (when Meera Borwankar was head of the crime branch), complaints about police extortion also came down. I have a strong suspicion that Â‘encounter specialistsÂ’ Â– a misnomer, because encounters are supposed to take place by chance Â– were also specialising in extortion, using their links with the underworld.
It used to be petty criminals and suspected Naxalites, now itÂ’s innocents. What makes the police so brazen?
Innocents may be rare. But it depends on the place. In Punjab, i learnt that right from the British days, the police had
been settling their personal land disputes by eliminating innocents. In Mumbai, some policemen reportedly take a contract from one gang to exterminate its rivals. Such policemen should be charged with murder. Once they get away with one, and then get a shabash, policemen lose their fear. The crux is politicisation of the police. Why do these encounters happen in Gujarat the most? They have the backing of the political establishment there. Even in Mumbai, when (Gopinath) Munde was home minister, he declared in the assembly, Â“IÂ’ve ordered the police to shoot these fellows.Â” How can a home minister say that in the assembly and get away with it? Partly because the middle class, which feels vulnerable because of the breakdown of the judicial process, supports encounters. Encounter specialists are
heroes for the press; films are made on them.
Only human rights groups question these encounters. Is there any internal mechanism for stopping them?
Human rights groups are important. I used to tell my men in Punjab Â– if it were not for them, youÂ’d go totally berserk. Sometimes human rights groups make false allegations, but without them, thereÂ’s a very real danger of the state going overboard. Within the police, there are conscientious officers who would check fake encounters. But in a place like Gujarat, theyÂ’d be immediately shunted out. If the power of transfers was not in political hands, officers would be able to put their foot down. ThatÂ’s why i feel the police must be freed from political control.
After the first encounter during my tenure, i got calls complimenting me. But i told the policemen involved, Â“1 donÂ’t expect you to kill.Â” They were stunned. It certainly wasnÂ’t a policy in my time, nor did it happen with my connivance. But whether i gave tacit approval by not actively opposing it Â– i donÂ’t know. I wonÂ’t say i wasnÂ’t happy.