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INDIA: Corrupt Officers Investigating Corruption!

August 31, 2010

An interview published by the Asian Human Rights Commission

INDIA: Corrupt Officers Investigating Corruption!

Today there are lot of discussions about policing in India. But most of these discussions fail to address the real problems within the police and appears to be intentionally refusing to discus about the most obvious, the crimes committed by police officers. An average Indian is aware about the crimes committed by the police officers, since these crimes are committed against them and they are the direct victims. It is just that for an average citizen there is no public space in the country where his or her concerns about the police could be expressed. There is no guarantee that if the common person expresses his grievances against the police, they would remain safe. The government, state or central, is not interested to listen to the public on this matter.

However, for the government and for many others who speak about the Indian police, the crimes committed by the police officers are not a subject matter of a debate or discussion. Only when a 'high profile' case appears in the media the government is confronted with the reality and is forced to take any action. Such instance happens only once in an year or in two years. I am of the opinion that without discussing the real concerns of the common man and his anguish concerning the manner in which the Indian police operate at the moment, no change to the present state of affairs of the Indian police can be made.

The police in India are known for all the wrong reasons, including but not limited to the practice of torture, corruption, ineptitude, non-professionalism, and their perpetual servitude to the politicians and the political parties.

I am from Kerala and works for a human rights organisation named Nervazhi in Thrissur district. Today, I would like to share my views about the Kerala police and their affinity to corruption. While there are various opportunities for the police to extract money illegally from the public, one of the worst forms is extortion of money while dealing with cases of death, suicide in particular.

As it is required in law, and for all the good reasons, when someone commits suicide, the police have to be informed. It is for the police to come to the scene of the crime, prepare reports, question or talk to the witnesses and take the body for an autopsy and later hand over the body to the relatives of the deceased. In a case of hanging for example, if the family members of the deceased inform the police about the incident, unless the family is willing to pay money to the police, the police just would not arrive at the scene. One can imagine the situation, if the person has committed suicide by hanging inside a house and if the police intentionally refuse to arrive at the scene.

For the police to do their job, there are different amount of money one has to pay as bribe. At the moment the rates of bribe within the Kerala state police concerning cases involving unnatural deaths are as follows: Rs. 3000.00 for the Circle Inspector; Rs. 2000.00 for the Inspector; and Rs. 2000.00 to 3000.00 to be shared between the police constables of the police station where the case is processed. If a superior officer like a Deputy Superintendent is involved, it is common for the superior officer to demand at least Rs. 5000.00. If the relatives of the deceased fail to pay this money, upfront, the police often refuses to take any action to complete the legal formalities. They may also threaten the relatives, that they suspect foul play in the death and make the relatives of the deceased person visit police station endlessly in the pretext of questioning. Fearing for these adverse consequences the people pay up, without asking any questions. In cases where there are allegations of claims of dowry, if the case is that of suicide of a married woman, or in other instances where there are allegations of a quarrel with the deceased before the death, then all the above rates go at least three folds.

Once the corpse is taken to the hospital for an autopsy, there too the relatives have to pay. Depending upon the condition of the body, the mortuary assistants in the hospital fix their rate of bribe. For instance, if the body is decomposed, the relatives will have to pay Rs. 3000 to 5000 at the hospital as bribes. I am not certain who gets what or whether the police surgeon is involved in this bribe collection racket. But when the police officers demand bribes openly, there is no reason why a surgeon should not.

At the Thrissur Medical College, autopsy is a profitable business. Persons who work as agents approach the relatives of the deceased the moment a body is brought for autopsy. They bargain with the relatives and arrange for what is known as a 'package deal', which includes, guarantying that the autopsy is conducted with no delay; that there will be electricity in the autopsy room to conduct the autopsy; that the body will be properly stitched and the post-mortem wounds are properly covered and depending upon the religious custom, the body is properly draped in a cloth or placed in a coffin.

Yes, it is a sad reality that even death is an opportunity for extracting bribes from the people. And many people are willing to pay, since they have now started believing in the logic that, if you need the service you must pay as if buying grocery from a super market. Additionally, the option of the public is that either you pay bribe and get the thing done or you get stuck with a dead body of your relative without being able to burry it.

The police are experts in exploiting situations to illegally earn a few rupees, no matter what the situation is. For example on 24 August, the dead body of a person was found in a pond near a country toddy shop in a place called Panthaloor in Thrissur district. The members of the Bharatiya Janatha Party (BJP) in the locality who have been protesting against the running of the toddy shop, for politically motivated reasons, made use of the incident to lobby against the toddy shop. They pasted a handwritten poster on the front door of the toddy shop, accusing the shop contractor that the person died by consuming illicit liquor.

Of course, it was just an allegation and there was no evidence whatsoever for this, neither was there any complaints from anyone else who consumed toddy from the shop the day the body was found or any other day. There was also no evidence as to the fact that the dead person had visited this shop. Yet, to avoid any troubles, the shop contractor along with his manager met the Sub Inspector of Police in Pudukkad Police Station, Mr. Babu, asking for his advice.

The officer seized the opportunity and demanded that unless he is paid Rs. 5000, including an additional Rs. 2000.00 to his subordinate officers at the station, he will immediately register a crime against the toddy shop contractor and his entire staff members. Scared of loosing business and more afraid about having a false case to defend, the contractor paid up and avoided the fabricated police action.

Citizens consider it as an extremely unfortunate fate and a risk to life and security having to do anything with the police. The citizens approach the police only when it is the last and the only option. If one has to file a complaint at the police station and approaches the police, it is common for the police, to avoid, through several means at their disposal, the registering of the complaint. A commonly used tactic is to make the complainant wait endlessly. To avoid this, the practice adopted is to send the complaint through a registered mail to the police station. But this is not an advisable option in all cases, since often the requirement for police help would be immediate and the complainant might not be having the luxury to wait for several days for the registered mail to reach the police station. Another option is to approach the court by way of a private complaint as provided in the criminal procedure law. This method too is time consuming, and in addition, cost intensive.

Schemes like free legal aid and pro bono lawyers is as scam, since there is no guarantee that the assigned lawyer is of any quality or is prepared to study the case. In addition the payment offered to these free service providing lawyers is as little as Rupees 125.00 for which one cannot expect even a lawyer of average skills. Such openings are utilised by young lawyers who want to learn legal practice at the expense of a poor litigant.

It is at this context, the local politicians find their 'meal'. They are willing to accompany complainants to the police stations, and 'throw their weight around' as a local political leader to get the services required by the complainant. But this service too comes at a cost. They too demand money and other illegal forms of gratification from the complainants. The police are aware of this approach and they let the politicians complete their 'act' with the police and share the bribe collected by the politician from the complainant. Often the complainant does not know that the money these politicians collect from them in the name of contribution to the party is in fact shared between the politician and the police. For those who have high connections within the political parties, such need does not arise.

It is the same police that is entrusted with investigation of corruption cases under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. The entire corruption prevention setup in India is a sham. This is the logical result of having this department manned by police officers. It does not require research studies or opinion polls to arrive at this conclusion. It is a matter of simple commonsense.

For instance, one of the police officers, Mr. Buvanachandran, working for the State Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Department as Police Superintendent currently stationed in Kochi, is one of the most notorious police officers in active service in the state. This officer's name was first found in the media way back in 1990, when he was suspected to be involved in the custodial death of a person named Christudas, who claimed to be a Pentecost pastor.

Later the officer was again in the media accused of fabricating a criminal case against one of the witnesses to Christudas' murder, Mr. Udayalal. It was alleged that the officer falsely entered Udayalal's age as above 18 at the alleged time of Udayalal committing the crime he was accused of.

The media for all the wrong reasons once again cited Buvanachandran's name, this time involving his son and some of his subordinate colleagues. It was reported that a Sub Inspector of Police while conducting random road check for drivers, stopped Buvanachandran's son, while he was riding a motorcycle. The boy stopped and informed the Sub Inspector that he is the son of officer Buvanachandran, who at the time was serving as the Commandant at the Armed Police Camp in Thrissur. The Sub Inspector did not offer any special concession to his superior colleague's son. Enraged by this the boy pushed the officer, argued with him and tried to flee. The officer took the boy into custody and took him to the police station.

Buvanachandran, being informed about the police case against his son stormed into the police station shouting abuses against the Sub Inspector. He then allegedly saluted the subordinate officer and kicked him inside the police station. He abused the officer as well as his subordinates and went off with his son, against which there is still no case.

During the same time, Buvanachandran again was in the news with his name tagged with a missing rifle from the police camp of which he was in charge of. Buvanachandran assaulted a police constable who deposed against him in an inquiry on this case. This too was in the media. The same officer was accused of being involved in a fake currency case and even with petty theft of a teak tree from the police camp. The teakwood, suspected to be from the tree that went missing from the camp was recovered from Buvanachandran's house. Yet again, as it was the practice in all past occasions, no case was registered against the officer and allegations remained hushed rumours within the police department and scandalous news reports in the media.

It is the same officer who is entrusted with investigating corruption at the Vigilance and Anti Corruption Department. Indeed Buvanachandran is of the senior officer rank, with an Indian Police Service (IPS) tagged to his name, which means that he will continue to be in service holding very important posts in the state.

Similar is the case of another senior IPS officer, Mr. Tomin J Thachankary. This officer's name is tagged with suspected terrorists, international money laundering and many other serious crimes. He is alleged to be the soul mate of the current State Home Minister, who is reportedly protecting him. The only difference is that while Tomin J Thachankary is of the rank, Inspector General of Police, Buvanachandran remains as a Police Superintendent.

Ostensibly to deal with all this, and as if complying with the directives of the Supreme Court of India in the Prakash Singh Case, the Kerala state government too has constituted a State Police Complaints' Authority. This too is a sham since not a single complaint that we have filed so far with this authority has resulted in any affirmative action against the police officers. The same story is repeated, as it is the same police who are investigating the crime.

Not many persons are willing to speak about these issues in the state. This is due to the fear that speaking against the police, even if it is the truth, will result in violent reactions from the police or from the criminals employed by the police.

Nervazhi has assisted filing of about 15 complaints with this body in the last year and almost the same number of cases till today, this year. We do not have any hope that these complaints will be independently investigated that will result in providing redress to the complainants. Yet I think as a citizen and a person concerned about human rights, it is my responsibility to make use of all mechanisms available within the legal framework of this country to fight against the above evils.

The views shared in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the AHRC, and the AHRC takes no responsibility for them.

About Naveenachandran:

Mr. Naveenachandran is a human rights activist working in Kerala, India, associated with a local human rights organisation, Nervazhi. The AHRC is a long-term partner of Nervazhi in its work in Kerala.

ENDS

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