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Delhi Police Special Commissioner (Law and Order) S N Shrivastava and Delhi Police Special Commissioner (Crime) Satish Golcha inspect Johar area of the riot-affected north east Delhi (PTI)
Delhi Police Special Commissioner (Law and Order) S N Shrivastava and Delhi Police Special Commissioner (Crime) Satish Golcha inspect Johar area of the riot-affected north east Delhi (PTI)

Why governance of Delhi Police needs a relook

The capital’s police cannot be permitted to become a threat to the security of its citizens

If there is to be one fallout from the rioting in Delhi this past week, it must surely be to censure the incestuous relationship between politics and religion, and its fatal consequences, and to revisit the governance of Delhi Police. Because, it wouldn’t be the first time that the capital’s police would be considered by some as a threat to the security of its citizens. Its controversial role during the anti-Sikh riots in 1984 is recorded by inquiry commissions and unfaded memories of an entire community, which saw some of its protectors turn into bystanders and abettors of violence.

Future commissions of enquiry into police action and inaction during Delhi’s ongoing protests that have been deliberately painted in communal colour, will likely place Delhi Police in a spot. The appointment on 25 February of a senior police officer as special commissioner for law and order will, in all likelihood, prove not to be a prophylactic the same as knee-jerk reactions for damage control in 1984.

Since at least December 2019, when protests against the National Register of Citizens and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 took roots in parts of Delhi and set a template of protest for other parts of the country, it has become clear that the capital’s police have remained less than exemplary in their handling of protests and curbing of its own violence towards citizens—even minors. A key part of the solution lies in revisiting Delhi police’s umbilical link with the Union home ministry to which it answers in letter and unbridled spirit.

Delhi’s chief ministers have earlier raised the matter, and so have members of nearly all major political parties of this unfledged city state. Congress chief minister Sheila Dikshit raised the matter. So, as it happens, did the current chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, in his 1.0 avatar when Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) first formed the government after elections to Delhi’s assembly in December 2013. That shaky coalition collapsed by mid-February 2014 over AAP’s inability to introduce the Jan Lokpal Bill in the assembly. President’s Rule was imposed until February 2015 when AAP, and Kejriwal, returned for avatar 2.0.

But in his combative first tenure as chief minister of 50 days, Kejriwal formally demanded of the Congress-led central government of the time that, the administrative control of Delhi Police be given over to Delhi’s government. The request was made on 17 January 2014. In a written reply to Parliament, where a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislator had raised the point of AAP’s demand, the Union home ministry on 5 February 2014—just days before Kejriwal resigned on 13 February, and a little over three months before BJP would take over reins of the central government—turned it down.

By the home ministry’s own admission, Kejriwal had suggested that policing of Delhi Cantonment and areas under the New Delhi Municipal Corporation—which includes the power showcase of ‘Lutyens’ Delhi’—remain in control of the central government. Policing powers in the remainder of the vast National Capital Territory of Delhi, Kejriwal suggested, should be transferred to Delhi’s government. The home ministry worded a bureaucratic denial of the request: “As per the special provisions with respect to Delhi under Article 239 AA of the Constitution (Sixty-Ninth Amendment) Act, 1991, the administrative and legislative competence on the subjects of public order and police vests with the president acting through the lieutenant governor."

Kejriwal now heads Government 3.0 after AAP’s resounding electoral victory in early February. It is a matter of media record that majoritarian religious interests fanned flames in the run-up to the assembly elections in an attempt to overshadow a secular citizens’ protest. Events of the past week have shown that embers remained, and judicial record shows that Delhi’s police reprised its role as questionable law keepers at the centre of a conflagration. If Delhi Police answers to the home ministry, then the home ministry is at least answerable to Parliament.

Something needs to be systemically, constitutionally, legislatively reorganized beyond a shuffling of officers for Delhi Police to reclaim a few points in its Citizens’ Charter: “To act without fear, favour or prejudice," “To protect, help, and reassure the people" and “To be seen to do all this with integrity." Because the capital’s police—any police, and under any administration, local or central—cannot be permitted to become a security threat.

This column focuses on conflict situations and the convergence of businesses and human rights.

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