Editor’s note:This is one of four stories about district administration and officials in Uttar Pradesh (UP) in the 1940s-1960s. The other stories are about the judiciary, the PWD, and the Collector. All of the stories have the same Introduction.
It was February 1968. The wind was cold, and the chill was accentuated by the isolation of the place the five men were stuck in. The road between Ranikhet and Kathgodam had been blocked near the iron bridge leading to Garam Pani, Bhowali, the famous sanatorium. They were the personal staff members of senior officers returning to Kathgodam from a conference in Ranikhet. The senior officers had managed to get escape the blockade by walking across the bridge, leaving their heavy luggage and bulky papers with their staff, who would bring it later when the blockade was lifted.
The staff, powerful in their own jurisdictions, were somewhat at a loss in this remote place. Till the blockade was cleared, they had to somehow manage their lives with locally available provisions and accommodation. They had got hold of whatever was available with a Forest guard. It was not much - just some bug-infested charpoys, a table lamp and a lantern. And there was someone who could light a fire, cook them a frugal meal, and do odds and ends.
During the day, these five men could while their time by playing cards or keep looking out for news about the lifting of the blockage. But, by 6.00 o'clock, darkness enveloped everything. The meals were served in rough metal plates by the ‘host' who was anxiously awaiting their departure. He was a doleful character. Not cheerful company.
On top of it, he advised every body to stay indoors at night. His stories about leopards and tigers, which infested the area, scared the five men. They were unwilling to venture outside more than ten yards from his doorstep. There was an oppressive feeling of being under duress.
Fortunately for this group, a grey haired old man, Ram Singh Bisht, turned up with a gun in one hand and a whiskey bottle in the other. He too was feeling stymied by the blockade, and wanted some company. He could not go even to nearby Bhowali for his newspaper and his daily provisions. He told the visitors that he decided to bring a bottle of whiskey because it wasn't any use to him without them because he never drank alone. The five men greeted this with enthusiasm because now there was a welcome diversion from doing nothing and just waiting uncertainly for deliverance.
Their joy was greatly enhanced when Bisht told them that he had retired as a stenographer to the District Judge of Nainital in 1955. Since most of the visitors wee also civil servants, Bisht was a person of their kind, with whom communication would not be a problem.
Soon, Bishtji opened up with his stories about his favourite District Judge, who was unusually strict and honest but was also a little peculiar in his daily life.
Editor's note: Bishtji's story about the Judge is presented in Judge Saheb - Judicial Administration in UP.
After Bishtji story about judges, it was the turn of Radha Krishna Gupta, a wizened old man who always wore a silk shirt. Guptaji was the P.A. (Personal Assistant) to a Superintending Engineer (SE) in the Public Works Department (PWD).
Editor’s note: Guptaji story about engineers is presented in PWD Administration in UP.
Now in 1968, Taufiq Mohammed, the P.A to the Collector of Farrukhabad district, said that Collector had become an anachronism. He started his story by explaining why he was keenly interested in the lives of Collectors.
Editor's note: Taufiq Mohammed's story about Collectors is presented in District Administration in UP.
It was natural that after the story of the Collector, the listeners should want to hear about the Superintendent of Police (SP), who is the next most important person in the governance of the district. Unlike some other states, in UP, at least the orders of the government place the SP squarely under the Collector and District Magistrate.
The extent to which the Collector is effective or ineffective depends upon the extent to which the Collector is able to oversee and direct the criminal administration of the district. If he chooses to take interest in what the police is doing, he has consider the kind of support he will get from the Commissioner (his boss) and the Government (at the State capital) in case he has differences with the SP. If the Collector is working in a district where the SP has been handpicked and posted with the blessings of either the Chief Minister or the locally based Minster, the Collector has to move very cautiously. If he tries to ride roughshod, he may be transferred or insulted and made totally ineffective. Notwithstanding all this, the fact remains that in UP, the police force is accountable to the Collector.
Every Station House Officer, who is the head of a Police Station, is fully responsible to the SP. However, if a powerful local politician decides on who will be posted to which Police Station and it is obvious that the politician takes a cut out of the bribes collected by the SHOs. Then, the writ of the SP will not run in the district. Of course, the SP can go to the Deputy Inspector General (DIG, his boss), but in this situation, the SP is not likely to get any support from the DIG either.
Actually, the situation on the ground is never so completely negative. Ministers too have to function with caution because they seldom wield absolute power. They have to give some freedom to an SP who is delivering goods in terms of keeping crime in check.
Tribhawan Singh, now posted as the C.O. (C.O. is an abbreviation for the Circle Officer - someone who is placed by the SP to supervise the working of the SHOs in a part of district demarcated by the Police Administration. He keeps his ear to the ground, formally inspecting police stations in his Circle, once every three months, supervising the investigation of important cases and keeping the SP in the picture.) recalled his own tenure as a Head Constable fifteen years back. He remembered how Mr Baalu, a young SP on his first posting in Mainpuri district was such a success. A young bachelor, he was absolutely clean - nobody could point a finger at him. That he had a law degree and was always willing to move away, added to his reputation, position and power. He had an inclined bench in his residential office on which he kept exercising nearly all the free time. He made the life of his SHOs extremely difficult because whenever they came to see him, he asked them to do pull-ups on the inclined bench. When they couldn't perform satisfactorily, he would give them three months to get into shape or be prepared to be sent away from their place of posing. He felt that a pot-bellied policeman was unworthy of being a member of the police force.
When Mr Baalu talked of the absolute necessity of physical fitness, he was passionate. If he got a chance, he tried to tell his Collector and also the DIG, the Commissioner and even the visiting Ministers that if he stayed on in this district, he would weed out all the policemen who continued to be corpulent, walking like pregnant buffaloes. Adding his own emphasis, to this point, Tribhawan Singh flexed his muscles, puffed up his chest and said, "If you are not healthy, you cannot enjoy even your sex life."
It was obvious to the listeners that Tribhawan Singh admired Baalu for his uprightness and personality. However, the rest of the group wanted to know how well he managed the functioning of the police force in the district. About his, Tribhawan Prasad gave a simple and straightforward answer. He said that Mr Baalu was not interested in publicity, was content to do his work quietly, and to the extent possible, pass on the credit to the Collector. His greatest strength was that nobody knew where he would be the next day or the next hour. People said that he was like lightning. Nobody knew where he would strike next. Besides, regular inspections, he also made surprise inspections and in respect of all these, he laid great emphasis on ‘action-taken reports'. Whenever he found that an SHO had neglected his instructions in an earlier inspection, he had hell to pay. He did not believe in the usual business of sending non-performing police personnel to the Lines. When someone did something wrong, Baalu usually charge sheeted the errant person and took quick action against him. Baalu's motto was that the deterrent against wrongdoing was not the quantum but the certainty of punishment.
He started his life in the district by doing two highly unusual things. First, he ordained that the Roznamcha (Daily Diary) should be up to date to the hour. This was quite contrary to the general practice of keeping it open and making entries only when the case concluded either with a Final Report or was sent up to the Prosecution branch for starting indictment in the court. It was generally believed that the Daily Diary had to be kept open for a while when an important case was being investigated. Our narrator, Tribhawan Prasad, who had himself been a Head Constable, also vouched for the near impossibility of keeping the Daily Diary up to date.
When the police had to act largely on instincts, which happened very often, it had often to move asymmetrically, deliberately going and coming in an erratic fashion. It had to call up potential witnesses, sundry informers, and also suspects and put pressure on them to come out with the truth. The law required that nobody could be informally questioned and if anyone was held in a police station for more than twelve hours, he could himself be held up for illegal detention. However, Mr Baalu believed that occasionally getting into trouble because of an up-to-date Daily Diary was better than all the improprieties committed through the facility of an open Daily Diary.
His second priority was the registration of a First Information Report (FIR) without equivocation. The plea generally taken for delaying this step was that useless FIRs often resulted in a big increase in workload. Once an FIR was registered, it became obligatory to examine its contents and then decide on the basis of detailed inquiry why the matter should or should not be pursed, as per the request of the person lodging the FIR.
Mr Baalu always held a detailed review of cases under investigation and drew up a list of cases to be kept always in view. In some cases, it was because of the nature of the case and in others, he just selected some cases at random, for detailed and regular monitoring. When an SHO came to see Baalu, or he visited a Police Station, he took out his own diary and discussed the cases of that Police Station in his list.
In order to ensure the goodwill of his police force, he always organised Police Sports, once a year, with great enthusiasm and took part in the hockey matches with great passion. This was partly because he was a sportsman but also because he realised that the character of the police force as a compact force required some effort to establish an esprit de corps among them.
When he took part in an encounter with the Tehsildar Singh gang and got a bullet in his leg, every member of the party taking part in the encounter grieved and blamed himself for not having given him the cover to prevent such an occurrence. Of course, he refused to go on long leave and stayed on the job, because he felt that perhaps Tehsildar Singh's gang too had suffered casualties. Only during his brief convalescence, his friends learnt that he was a good Hasya Ras (poems designed to make you laugh) poet.
He had three passions. The first one was to remain an ace marksman by practising shooting every day. The other was to participate personally in solving crimes. The third was to counteract the prejudiced behaviour of officers and men against Scheduled Caste personnel.
When he spoke of the solving of crimes, Baalu was quite frank about the need to use some extraordinary measures for this purpose. Of course, he was too sophisticated to use the usual ham-handed third degree. For example, when he found a jeweller refusing to cooperate about the identification of ‘fences' for stolen goods, Baalu did not do anything violent. Instead, he resorted to psychological warfare. He instructed the SHO to send a policeman every day at 11.30 PM to the jeweller's first floor house, call out his name and tell him, on top of his voice, that he was required to come to the police station at nine in the morning. Unless asked, the policeman was not to say anything about the matter for which the jeweller had been summoned. Naturally, some neighbours asked the policeman what was going on. He told them that the jeweller was being called in connection with a case of jewellery theft. After six nights, the jeweller was tired of this harassment. To stop it, in sheer desperation, he gave Baalu all the needed information.
Once, one of his officers told Mr Baalu that one of his Deputy Superintendents, a member of a Scheduled Caste, was being maltreated by his colleagues as well as subordinates. Even his subordinate SHOs and the C.Os did not offer this Deputy Superintendent a chair to sit on when he happened to go to their offices. Mr Baalu was incensed at this blatant discrimination and insubordination. To deal with this kind of behaviour, Baalu - a Brahmin of the highest order - asked the Deputy Superintendent to supervise the serving of food to everybody, starting with himself, at the next dinner hosted by him at his own house. The high caste personnel were aghast because they did not want their food to be touched by a Schedule Caste person. But, none of them could protest for fear of displeasing the boss.
At the end of the meal, Baalu told his officers that all human beings needed to be treated as equals and any discrimination on the basis of caste would be visited with serious punishment. In private, he told the Deputy Superintendent that he could not expect respect from others unless he himself acted with dignity and self-esteem. Tribhawan Singh said this is no big deal now in 1968 but in 1957, it was a revolutionary step. It brought about a basic change in the Deputy Superintendent's behaviour and today, he is considered one of the most competent and honest officers. When Mr Baalu left, on promotion, to join the office of the Inspector General of Police, the Deputy Superintendent cried his heart out for the sense of loss this was to him.
A very peculiar man succeeded Mr Baalu. This SP was an ex-Army (ASC) man who claimed that he was one of the awardees of the Burma Medal. However, inquiries revealed that he had never set foot in Burma. He was as unlike his predecessor as possible. He had a grand moustache, which he kept well waxed and supple - but it had nothing to do with his courage or valour.
He had a ‘pet' panther for which he had erected an iron fence, open at the top. It would try to pounce on anyone venturing in the vicinity of the fence. Tribhawan Singh had never seen SP sahib himself go near the panther. Maybe the purpose was to convince his visitors and, above all himself, that he was a ferocious and courageous man. Sadly, nobody believed him - they knew that he was a fearful man always keeping himself as far from danger as possible. People always wondered why he had been posted to Etawah when the district was all the time under threat from the Man Singh's band of dacoits.
The ex-Army SP tried to run police administration almost entirely from his office at the district headquarters. Whenever, he had to go out into the rural areas, he took with him a big contingent of police for his own protection. He warned the Collector of the risk of venturing out without a full-fledged guard. When the Collector ignored his advice, he went to the length of reporting the Collector's intransigence to the Commissioner and the Government.
One Collector who had just come on his first positing as Collector, made the grievous mistake of going off in a huff to see what was happening in the village which had been raided and looted by dacoits, learnt a very valuable lesson when he arrived on the spot. He had somehow driven over the Kutcha terrain in his Austin A40. When he arrived at mid-day, he found that in the chaupal of the village, police personnel were sitting on charpoys eating chicken and drinking liquor. He was livid. He asked at the top of his voice as to who was in charge and how was it that they as guardians of law and order were eating and drinking at the expense of a village, which had suffered such a grievous loss of life and property. An Assistant Sub-inspector of Police answered rudely that the policemen had to eat and live notwithstanding the losses suffered by the villagers. Seeing the Collector on the point of losing his shirt, one Head Constable intervened and in a quiet and even voice told the Collector to go back home, without creating a situation. He explained to the enraged Collector that the situation could become very dangerous. After all, he was alone and should the policemen lose their temper, they could do anything: since he was alone, without even a peon to speak for him, who would testify to the "facts", should the police officers decide to do away with him? This made the Collector come to his senses. While he was driving away, the Head Constable told him never to go alone to a Police Station or to a situation of confrontation with the police. Even a Collector was vulnerable if only Police Personnel surrounded him.
Given the safety conditions this SP had laid down for himself, he couldn't go for inspection to too many police stations. Naturally, except for the Scheduled Caste Deputy Superintendent, others also neglected their supervisory duties. In addition, the SHOs got a chance to have their own way. In one case, it came to notice that one of them had sold the Krishna paksh (the dark fortnight of the month) to thieves for a substantial sum of money. This kind of sale meant that there would be no night surveillance by the police and the gang of petty thieves operating in the area would not face any interference from the police during the Krishna paksh.
During this SP's days, the Collector came to have an almost complete control of the police stations. While the SP was ensconced in his cocoon of safety, the Collector came to have full sway over police stations through his inspections and monthly reviews. He made use of the big sized wall map of the district in the SP's office to chart every crime and later study and analyse the patterns of crime in each of the police stations. Later, he used to comment if any pattern was developing in the area and if there was recurrence of any particular method of the commission of crimes. Tribhawan Singh benefited from this because, by assisting the Collector in his studies, he developed the expertise to identify the gangs by the modus operandi of the crimes.
During this SP's tenure, his subordinates made a lot of money by fleecing the applicants for arms licenses. The arms dealers and the office bearers of the Rifle Club too made money by selling ammunition to criminals. Nevertheless, the SP was quite popular with his bosses because he had the best cooks in his range and was ever willing to send the choicest dishes for the tables of his bosses. Besides, this he was also a very fine ghazal singer, who held the audience spellbound during the Annual Conference of the police officers. He was also a man with an extraordinary understanding of political developments. Just then, a young lecturer from Yadava College was emerging in the area as a popular leader. The SP had a gut feeling that this young leader was going to become very powerful in the coming years. Therefore, the SP did everything he could to curry favour with the leader and his colleagues. In turn, the leader and his acolytes left the SP free to play his harmonium and sing his ghazals in peace.
The SP was keenly interested in gardening. His bungalow has about three acres of land, where he grew the best flowers in the district. He had no compunction about using as many twenty recruits from the Police Lines for cooking in his house, looking after the panther, and maintaining his lawns and his flower beds.
He and the Collector had a serious difference of opinion only once. Once, the much-respected Chaudhury Saheb, the biggest landowner of the district, came to the SP to complain about the Collector. Chaudhury Saheb had gone to the Collector to seek his help in revoking the arrest of his son. But, the Collector had rebuked Chaudhury Saheb. The SP felt that the Collector had treated Chaudhury Saheb unfairly. After all, there was nothing unusual or unexpected about a young man - such as the Chaudhury's son - seeking sexual favours of a Scheduled Caste young woman. If she had died while resisting his advances, why should a mountain be made of a molehill? In his own youth, the SP recalled, he had made out with many of the maids in his house. He had also obtained the favours of the young women who came to their fields for grass for fodder, and for grains that had been left behind in the harvested fields. Of course, the SP felt sorry that the girl had died. But, he also felt that boys were boys; he couldn't understand that in the new order, such things would not be tolerated. Anyway, he had got Chaudhury Saheb to pay fifty thousand rupees to the girl's father to settle the matter.
In due course, the SP was rewarded with a Police medal without ever having faced an encounter or having worked with any seriousness.
Most of the police Officers regarded themselves essentially as equals to the Collectors: but for being short of a few marks in the combined IAS/APS examination, they would themselves be in the IAS. They rightly believed that they were equals to the IAS fraternity, which could hardly achieve anything without their support.
Often, the government itself encouraged the Police Officers to ‘stand up' to the IAS Collectors. It was often argued, that in districts considered highly vulnerable from the viewpoints of political or law and order, the government gave the policy forces considerable autonomy to operate on their won. While, naturally, the police claimed this had worked wonders, public opinion was often evenly divided. Whenever the conduct of police was reviewed in these specially empowered districts, most of the lay people complained about the arbitrariness of the police force.
© Anand Sarup 2012
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