A strange title, isn’t it? A much larger, but more
complete title could have been “How We Never
Question The Dysfunctional Things That Cops Do”. Let
me share with you four cases where our security
forces do things that make no sense, needlessly
harass citizens, and confer disproportionately high
petty power to those in authority. These relate to
Bombay and Delhi. I’m sure they can be replicated in
all our other metros.
On 16 March this year, the Chilean
President, Michelle Bachelet, arrived in India with
a delegation of ministers, industrialists and CEOs.
She and her entourage visited Bombay on 18-19 April.
Here are two tales worth recounting.
The delegation was staying at the Taj Hotel. Given
what happened there on 26 November, there was every
reason to be careful. However, the ham-handed way in
which Bombay’s finest tried to ring fence and seal
the Taj, Apollo Bunder and the Gateway of India was
inefficient and annoying in equal measure. Consider
this. Somewhere around 3 pm on 18 April, Ms.
Bachelet was supposed to depart from the Taj. The
entire area — that is, all four sides of the hotel —
was cordoned off for almost 45 minutes. No cars were
allowed to either pick up or drop guests. With their
customary rudeness, the policemen kept on abusing
drivers and diverting cars going to the hotel.
Guests had to disembark more than 200 metres away,
and lug their suitcases. I was one such.
We in India consider this to be a normal part of
‘VVIP’ movement. Why so? If the Chilean President
was to leave at, say 3.30 pm, there was no need to
shut all roads leading to the Taj Hotel any earlier
than 3.20 pm. And keep them closed for more than
five minutes after her departure. Fifteen minutes
were sufficient. The streets of Washington DC aren’t
shut down for 45 minutes awaiting President Obama’s
motorcade. Nor London when Gordon Brown perambulates
to and from Downing Street. Why does such nonsense
happen in India? The answers: police inefficiency;
the exalted notion of our cops that they can put
others through difficulties without any valid
explanation; and our lack of protest.
My second example was what I saw the very next day.
Some time in the afternoon, President Bachelet was
to be driven to the airport. From Taj onwards, the
route was crawling with police. Fair enough. The
Chilean President is a VVIP and must get high
security protection. But guess what? Lolling around
the footpaths of Marine Drive, Chowpatty, Hughes
Road, Peddar Road, Haji Ali, Worli were hundreds of
cops carrying lathis. I started counting the bunches
that congregated around major traffic lights.
Typically, there would be 20-odd cops lounging
around. Of these, 17 or 18 had only lathis, and the
rest carried pistols which I guess they hadn’t used
for months on end. What is this other than a charade
of protection? Lathis are great to whack protesters,
hawkers and hapless beggars. Never heard of a rattan
cane as a terrorist protection tool. And why were so
many effectively useless cops hanging around? VVIP
My third example has to do with the hundreds of
police check-posts that constrict the roads of
Delhi. The worthies manning them are supposed to
keep an eye out for terrorists, thugs, robbers and
other unsavoury chaps. Their key activity: flagging
every third motorcyclist ostensibly to check their
licences and pollution certificates; and so collect
a tidy pile of bribes which, doubtless, are
distributed each evening at the police station. I
pass two such check-post every day in Delhi. And
I’ve been watching them very closely. Believe me,
that exactly what they do.
Finally, the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF),
which mans our airports. Gernerally better trained
people, compared to your typical Delhi or Bombay
cop. Even so, here’s point number 1: No major
airport in the world has cops checking the tickets
and identities of passengers as they enter the
airport. Why us? Point number 2: If at all there is
some mysteriously important reason for doing so, why
do the guards insist on photo identity for those
having e-tickets, and not for those having the
old-fashioned ticket coupons? Point number 3: Why
can’t we have consistent rules? If jackets need to
be taken out and placed on trays, why not implement
it everywhere? Point number 4: Why must there be
three levels of security by the same agency: when
entering; when hand luggage is X-rayed and you are
frisked; then again when you are about to board?
Does the CISF not trust the quality of its own
people? Aren’t there ways of making the system more
We are surrounded by serious terrorist threats. Do
these examples make you feel that our security chaps
can deal with them, when the next one happens?
Published: Business World, April 2009