Tuesday, November 6, 2007

8.COMMENTARY. Security Lapse. Is it?

In a recent outburst the Delhi High Court echoed the subdued sentiment of the millions. No wonder, one of the rarest judicial indictment of the state was flashed on front pages of newspapers, with a majority giving the judiciary a `thumps up'. Arguing that politicians were not a `national asset' to be protected by so many security personnel Justice T S Thakur had told the counsel of the central government."You should not let these men (politicians) come out. Their presence in public places itself threatens the common man."

While the judgement on the matter should be some hearings away, the harsh observations are nevertheless significant on two accounts. One, the court shows them (politicians) their limited worth and two, that protecting them denies security to the common man. Though it may sound painfully amusing on one account, it unfolds a glaring anomaly of democratic polity in the world's largest democracy. Should peoples' representatives be (over)valued above the general public they seem to serve?

So, it seems. As a Z+ security cover guarantees no less than 75 police personnel with a fleet of vehicles including a bullet proof car. Remove the plus and the Z security translates to 39 persons in uniform with a medium fleet of jeeps. At the third tier, there is Y category that engages some 13 police personnel round the clock. Multiply it three times to get the actual number of men in uniform engaged in VIP security in three daily shifts.

Undoubtedly, security of important persons in the capital of the country is worth Rs 20 crores each day, with thousands of police personnel on duty. Not satisfied with the counsel's contention that these people need security the court painfully pointed out the irony that "People are being murdered but it does not bother you. You are failing to provide proper security to them but you deploy a contingent of security personnel with lethal weapons for the politicians."

Out of total available police force available in Delhi, 55 per cent are engaged in VIP's security, 3.6 per cent are involved in managing traffic and merely 32 per cent are in active policing for a population in excess of 100 million people. It must however be noted that a significant proportion of the force in active policing is engaged in regular investigations. If this is the state of affairs in Delhi, peoples' security in other cities and small towns can be easily inferred.

The police to people ratio is clear reflection on how indeed common man's security has been systematically undervalued. The police to people ratio is a pathetic 10 to 10,000 persons in India while countries like Hong Kong, Malaysia & Thailand have a ratio of 47, 34 & 33 respectively. Unless this skewed ratio gets addressed the police jeeps plying on the roads with the inscription `with you, for you always' will remain a mere statement of intent.

With the criminalisation of politics and politicisation of criminals having grown hands-in-glove, the degeneration of democracy in the last six decades has reached an all time low. About half the members of the parliament hold criminal records against them and letting them out in the public places, as the court rightly observed, may amount to threatening the security of the common man.

In its defense, the government informed the court that it was revising the policy pertaining to personal security provided to important people and submitted a document in a sealed envelope, understood to be containing such details.The court was scathing in its attack:`There is nothing secret in these documents. You have got a habit of putting everything under cover. Can the security of these men be protected by putting these papers in sealed cover?' It couldn't have been more embarrassing!

Whether this judicial tirade transform the situation on the ground is a matter of deep conjecture! But the fact that the issue of grave social concern has been raised to expose the self-serving nature of peoples' representatives should be indicative of the process of degeneration that the governing structure has gone through. That the judiciary has to reprimand the government on matters like these reflect an abject failure of its self-corrective mechanism.

Watching a heavily protected politician passing by during one such traffic diversions, my five-year son was wondering whom the police was protecting? Before I could articulate my considered response to match his nascent thinking he quipped: `isn't there a criminal being escorted by the police'? It reminded me of one such moment several years ago when as a young child I was witness to the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru moving about in an open car waving to the roadside crowd on a visit to Hyderabad!

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