Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Get ready to harvest super monsoon or miss the bus

Summers are becoming scary in several parts of India. Two consecutive deficient monsoons have driven mass migration cities.
We have seen images of endless rows of empty pitchers around dry wells, kept in the hope of water, even if unclean. Women and children walk in scorching heat to fetch water. Farmers’ suicides makes them widows and orphans. After watching these scenes, it’s difficult to drink even a glass of water. One feels guilty and angry.
Do what we can
Weatherman has given us hope for a very good monsoon. Do not give up, but do what ‘we’ can. I share the story of what ‘we’ did to fulfil our human responsibility. ‘We’ are a team of six — Navjyoti India Foundation, a non-government organisation (NGO) working in more than 70 villages of Haryana’s Sohna belt; the KIIT Group of Colleges, Sohna; The Sehgal Foundation, NGO with technical expertise in rural development; three local government officers; and Delhi University’s Cluster Innovation Centre. ‘We’ decided to combine our strengths and start ‘Jal Kranti’ (water revolution).
How ‘we’ did it
Navjyoti has 20 years’ experience of promoting education, self-help groups, water-harvesting, and skill training in rural communities. The KIIT provided the participants with its academic hall and refreshment, besides rural academic expertise. It also assigned its videographer to document the event for wider awareness. The three government officers do it as their job, fighting the shortage of resources, in view of the scale of the challenge.
The Sehgal Foundation brought its technical expertise to the table. The fifth partner was an academic at Oxford with skills in project management. The Cluster Innovation Centre designed the questionnaire for data analysis. One of the 15 questions was to know how much the rural leadership knew about the government schemes being announced, some by the Prime Minister directly on radio. The survey results will throw up some interesting insights.
Villages not ready
Present in the audience were the sarpanches and panches of over 70 villages of the Sohna belt, invited to share their water-harvesting plans for the monsoon. We had asked them to come prepared and speak by turn. We had set up cash prizes for the best solution.
As we heard one village chief after another, it became evident that the village councils were not yet prepared or were still to gather to plan ahead in spite of the water crisis looming large, nationwide. Many of them had started having issues even before pre-monsoon. For instance, they said their ponds couldn’t take in rainwater because these were choked with the village sludge. So how will the rain water be harvested? Where do they divert it? They needed technical help.
The six partners responded to some of the issues with solutions but the absence of a concerted community plan was obvious. The village representatives seemed unorganised individuals. We did not see the community spirit in them.
Waiting for another Marathwada
None of them appeared impatient for solutions. It seemed they thought Marthwada couldn’t happen in their region. Even if it did, they did not seem worried. Was it because fetching water is woman’s burden?
The concept of shramdaan (voluntary labour by the youth and able-bodied to dig ponds and wells for saving water) was alien to them. They were banking on MNREGS (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme). No panchayat had any tree-plantation plan either.
Divided community
The team realised that ‘we’ could miss the possibility of harvesting a very good monsoon that is predicted. While there was no community bonding, there was no plan, enthusiasm, commitment, concern, skills, unity, confidence, or ownership either. Village communities are divided heavily on caste and faith lines. They belong to sects, not the village as a whole. We need the district collectors to make ‘we’ teams in every district — involving local NGOs, experts, forest and panchayat officials, students, and professional college youth to dig underground channels that will give them water even in a drought year.
Small window
The time is now, before the monsoon. Who knows when the next good one will come. Similarly for planting trees. Sehgal Foundation expert Lalit Sharma told the village representatives to prepare the pits now, with right plants identified. The ‘we’ teams of water collectors is the answer nationwide. The governments should be proactive in implementation. The coming together of professionals and the youth with a spirit of community service in their own villages is a must. The data analysis by the Cluster Innovation Centre experts is awaited. We will know what measures to take for community bonding. Haryana may offer us a model of community bonding for Jal Kranti.

Friday, April 22, 2016

As A Police Officer, Shaktiman Was Let Down

I am not sure if Shaktiman, our brave, handsome white horse of the Uttarakhand Mounted Police, had leg guards on when he was on duty when his leg was thrashed and he fell down and injured himself. 

We do not have proven evidence of what happened. The visuals are indicative but not conclusive. How the injury was caused is a matter of police investigation. The person suspected, a politician, was arrested and is currently on bail. He continues to deny he hit Shaktiman. 

We do not know the truth. We only have a gut feeling! 

But my question is: was Shaktiman, our brave mount, whom Maneka Gandhi addressed also as a police officer on duty, protected both on his face and legs to protect from getting hit or injured in case of stone-throwing? This is what mounted police gets in many countries - due protection.
If that was not done, then it was inadequate preparation for mounted police to be deployed to maintain law and order in such a volatile situation. 

Mounted Police has a distinct advantage when positioned correctly. It gives a higher visibility and allows walking on tracks which are not road-worthy. It's very good for patrolling, can walk inside parks, on beaches, in small lanes, or on undulating surfaces. But when crowds need to be dispersed, I am not sure we should use horses. It can hurt both people and horses.

For dispersal of crowds, we have better options. We have trained personnel for riot control who are reasonably protected with riot gear. We have tear gas shells. We have water canons. We have rubber bullets too, though these are rarely used. 

Mounted police is at risk when it is unguarded (face and lower limbs) as perhaps Shaktiman was, in a lawless, stone-throwing situation where even cops were hit.
I think it's time to restrict the deployment of Mounted Police where it can serve us as best such as ceremonials, patrolling the streets, small lanes, rural areas, and, of course, for visibility and confidence-building.  

Shaktiman's case also compels us to have a fresh look at our law...(sic!) The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960. 

It's a shame that it has not been updated till now. 

Section 11 of the said Act says, ''If any person beats, kicks, overdrives, tortures, so as to subject it to unnecessary pain or suffering or causes, or being the owner to be so...Shall be punishable in case of a first offence with fine which shall be not less than ten rupees, but which may extend to fifty rupees and in the case of second or subsequent offence committed within three years of the previous offence with fine and shall not be less than twenty five rupees but which may extend to one hundred rupees or with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three months or with both."

If our state assemblies and parliament do not legislate to keep up with the times, who does one complain to? Shaktiman's case also shames the legislatures to correct the law.

The Animal Board can also recommend appropriate changes (these may already be pending, who knows) to make the law effective, deterrent and respectable.

For now, the accused who has been arrested for cruelty to Shaktiman, if found guilty, will pay Rs. 10, maximum Rs. 50, since it may be his first offence. But the cost of his investigation and trial may run into thousands when measured against the time and effort invested by criminal justice system.

Besides the loss of majestic mount akin to a cop on law and order duty..the less said the better!
My own version of Shaktiman was Chandni, my 6-year-old horse who trained with me for nearly a year at the Police Training Academy in Mount Abu. We had riding classes every day and not once did she let me fall. Chandni was a very beautiful, well-behaved horse and there was a lot of mutual respect.

Kiran Bedi is the first woman to have joined officer ranks of Indian Police Service. Recipient of Magsaysay Award (1994) for police and prison reforms, she has also worked as a UN police advisor. A tennis champion, she earned a PhD from IIT Delhi and is a Nehru Fellow. She's founded many NGOs and is the author of several books.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Ensuring right to life and security

Just because we in India are more than a billion people does not mean we let people die in blazes, collapsed bridges, stampedes, floods, riots or even while crossing the road. Life in that case will be highly unsafe.
Insecurity breeds fear that affects human development and creativity. The biggest hallmark of civilisation has been the guarantee of human security. Or else what is the difference between earlier jungle living and now urban setting? What is the point in living in gated communities, but once out of them being vulnerable to all kinds of risks? The key to ensuring safety and security is respecting and adhering to laws made by mankind. Right to life and security is our basic need.
To provide this basic right, a country secures its borders from external invasions. Alert soldiers ward off enemies from any intrusions even if it is at the cost of their lives. That is why we daily hear of brave encounters. Brave men and women in uniform keep awake so that we are not invaded. They protect our geographical boundaries. It is because of them that we sleep in peace.
Internal security
But what about internal security? Who are its soldiers? They are both in uniform and in plain clothes. They are the civil administration. They are specially selected, elected and appointed by people. If they fulfil their responsibilities honestly and sincerely and without fear or favour, people enjoy internal safety and security. It’s when they fail that people die in fire blazes, on roads, in floods or in other manmade disasters.
Internal security keepers must consider themselves akin to soldiers on the borders, envisioning what would happen if they fail their countrymen? We will be overrun by marauders who will come and exploit our vulnerable sections, rob us of our wealth and resources, enslave us and perhaps kill us too. Just as we expect our soldiers on the borders to secure our borders without being reminded to, we expect the local administration to be civil soldiers within, protecting and ensuring our internal safety.
Police, civil servants, elected or nominated or selected representatives are internal soldiers, whose duty is to guarantee internal security by doing their duty without fear or favour. Anyone coming in the way is the enemy of society and has to be dealt with as per laws.
Rules flouted
Had rules been followed, we would not have lost over a hundred lives at the Kerala temple with hundreds suffering from burns. It has left behind orphaned children and grieving families. If the district administration had denied permission to the temple authorities for fireworks, it was also their duty to prevent its violation by courageous enforcement. They failed in their duty to protect people as internal soldiers, which is a criminal breach of trust.
All manmade tragedies have a few common factors: Neglect of one’s duty, callous behaviour towards others’ safety, greed or highly selfish motives behind neglect, showing off of one’s pelf, power or position, taking risk at others’ cost and indifference to others’ suffering.
We, the billion-plus people, need to be a better humanity with a better sense of responsibility. We should have an enhanced consciousness towards our duties. We should respect human rights and live our lives for a higher purpose. We have got human life to do good, and not to injure and destroy others. Let’s be trustworthy civil soldiers to serve humanity, and protect our people with the same courage and patriotism with which our armed forces protect our borders.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Had predicted Kolkata flyover collapse, writes Kiran Bedi

I had anticipated the collapse of the Kolkata flyover on one of the recent visits to the city and asked it on Twitter who was in charge of this ghost structure. Left unattended for years, the rusting, concrete juggernaut without a workman near it was just waiting to cave in. It had to take lives to let the world know it was dying.
Cases would be registered and a few company officials arrested but no one would say a word about the other public servants (political or non-political) responsible for the oversight. We’ll hear public statements that they will spare no culprit and compensate the families of the victims. Then politicians will descend on the scene. It has become a predictable drill.
When under pressure, politicians wait for the next disaster or the public memory to fade. In our subcontinent, disasters occur too frequently for the general public to keep track of all. They who must be held accountable will never be.
Bureaucrats first
The clean-up should start with the public works department, from the lowest secretary to the highest bureaucrat. It was their duty to oversee the work, clear the bills, do regular site inspection, audit/test the material, and ensure that safety standards were followed. How many times since 2008 did they review the project? We do not know, nor will we get to know, unless we file an RTI. It will be months before we get the information, which will be incomplete and not of much help.
Files will show where the matter was kept pending at the administrative and political levels. The construction company went bankrupt within a year of the project, so blame will be shifted to it, without transparency and accountability, even though many politicians also deserve to go to jail over this.
Leaders retract
Can the area legislator and MP be held accountable? I heard the MP say on television that monitoring the rusting flyover was not his job. The Trinamool MP of Kolkata North said that by the time the flaws had come to his notice, 60% of the work had been over. He forgot what he owed to his voters. Did they pick him or his party? No one knows. No one can ask. No one will reply.
What about CM’s accountability?
As CEO her government, is West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee not supposed to review the progress of pending projects for public safety? But she said on TV that her predecessors had awarded the contract and it is they who should be asked why they had hired a blacklisted company.
Information in the public domain suggests that she knew the company was untrustworthy. The question is who will dare to ask her what her government had been doing for almost five years? No one can. She has already put the blame o the company and washed her hands off it.
Opposition not innocent either
How about the Opposition parties who also seek votes? Did they protest to seek time-bound completion of the project? If they did, when and to what effect? Did they persevere, or gave up? They can say it’s best to protest when the structure has collapsed, not when it is collapsing. Imagine the votes the tragedy will get them. They say the Opposition’s accountability is never certain; tell them so is the case with public vote.
Public guilty, too?
Cities have their media and citizen groups for taking up causes. Did they find out what the government was up to? I fear they, too, will turn around and say: “O’ please, we do only campaigns like marathons, environment runs, save the tiger, school charity (that don’t question the government).”
It’s not safe for the local media to ask the government uncomfortable questions. Then who will? Who killed the people?
The hand of God?
Did the voter under the bridge not have the duty to exercise safety? Was it the hand of God, as a company executive said, as another man on TV said: “The state anyway is run by God.” Since God is neither visible not accessible, how do we make God accountable? But the case should not be closed. The challenge is to fix responsibility.
@SivadasTV2, who follows me on Twitter, had the following suggestion. I think it’s worth considering. “Pass a law requiring all elected representatives to file a monthly intelligence report on illegal activities in their constituencies.” Will the voter demand it? But again, from whom? They who do not understand the words ‘responsibility’ and ‘accountability’? India begs for accountability, from its corporate houses, public servants, and appointed and elected representatives.
Will the judiciary take suo-motu notice?

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Delhi Cop Monika Bhardwaj, Ignore The Trolls. You Did Good.

It's a curious, hungry, angry world on social networks. Social Media reflects the microcosm of our society. We have cynics as well as applauders. But we also have marauders who use the anonymity of space to be offensive too - trolls!

After this tweet by a sensitive and a communicative Delhi Police Officer, she was horribly trolled.

Here is what she tweeted, and see what happened. (Monika Bhardwaj is a young IPS officer, an Additional Deputy Commissioner Police, West District in Delhi Police.)

I recall I was asked a question on my Twitter handle as to whether it's appropriate for a senior cop to disclose the nationalities of the accused, to which I tweeted back saying, yes, if it is to nip nefarious rumours and in the larger good of society, if it is to maintain peace and harmony. (I believe it helped )

The police was swift in taking action in arresting the accused involved in the brutal lynching of dentist Pankaj Narang, who was killed with hockey sticks and his rods by a mob at his own home in Vikaspuri. The police were well-aided by technology - pictures captured by CCTVs privately installed by other residents in the area

The good news is that people have become very conscious of maintaining security in their own area. They are filling a vacuum.

But the question I wish to highlight is whether Indian Police services are using social media enough, both for crime prevention and crime detection? Is it being used to its full potential to raise general awareness and seek participation and support?

The fact that Ms Monika Bhardwaj got trolled and was abused is indicative of not enough use of the social network in normal and better times...and certainly not enough two-way traffic.

There is a sniff of cynicism from within the department also for reasons not understood (I can only conjecture). I believe the police organisation is still at the stage of formulating the policy on use of social media. An occasional page on traffic information or creating issue-based circles for views is just not enough. It's not vigorous to engage, provoke and encourage visitors to come to social network sites.
I believe it could do the police services good in current times to formulate and implement a proper social media plan when there is a large proliferation of smart phones. Use Facebook and Twitter and others in local languages for maximum participation, positive or negative. At least it will tell the police what people are thinking, which is important to know.  

Here are a few other steps which I think the social media policy could incorporate.

First and most important: the purpose of its use. What are the goals? What is being set out to be achieved? Social media could have various sections of traffic, crime prevention, crime interdiction, behavioural issues, satisfaction levels, ideas, observations, alerts, safety issues, initiatives, recognition, awards, new policies, experiences, feedback. The object is engagement with the community which increases security.

In a two-way communication, social network sites must become essential "go- to places".

Social networking is cost-effective. It comes at lightning speed. It enhances accountability of the police service (while providing anonymity to the troller - so be it!) I thought the police world over is used to brickbats, not kudos. The former is a daily affair while the latter is occasional. But this will increase once communication is well-conducted, has a face from the police department side, and is always well meaning for the larger safety of the community.

So what if Monika was abused? We cops are trained to deal with it. Earlier it was to our face. Now it's on the wire!

Well done, young friend. Keep up your communication, and do not get bullied by bullies. You also were appreciated. Hope your department appreciates what you did. You stopped rumour-mongering. You checked escalation of any further breach of peace.

You did your duty well. You are the new generation of tech-savvy, communicating cops, and a woman at that.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Arrest of JNU students, and the policing side of it

So much is being debated about police arrests these days in view of the students of an elite university in Delhi having been arrested. Here, based on my experience in policing, I will try to explain when police make an arrest and when they don’t. Why do police in one case make an on-the-spot arrest, while in another they may wait, defer, delay or even not make one? Is it because it is to favour anyone? Or be unfair to another? What does the law say? Does it give the police any discretion? Further, who are the police accountable to when they use the power of arrest? Also, when and why do police seek police remand for some people they arrest, while in others they let them out on bail soon after? Also, why are some taken into custody for interrogation while some after arrest are released on bail either by police themselves or the courts.
Why these differences?
The answer to this lies in understanding the law and its processes. To arrest or not to arrest, when and where to arrest, are important discretionary powers the investigating officer exercises. It is a responsibility with full accountability and justiciability before the judiciary. In many democratic and developed countries, false arrests call for heavy penalties and loss of job for erring police officers under the law, which enables civil penalties and damages. In India, it calls for suspensions as well as criminal proceedings leading to prosecutions.
This discourse is against the backdrop of arrest of students from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) for alleged seditious slogans raised in the university. Since the police arrested them for grave offences, which were non-bailable, and wanted to investigate intensely, they sought police remand and the courts gave it. By now, all arrested students have been sent to judicial custody by the courts and the bail petition of one of them is to be decided soon. On the other hand, the police, while dealing with the same case, did not make any spot arrest of riotous lawyers on the Patiala House court premises even when their ‘hooliganism’ was captured on camera. It’s a different matter that some of the advocates were summoned and later arrested and granted bail. In their case, the police released them on bail as the offences were bailable by police. While in the case of students the bail could be granted only by the courts.
Both happenings are under investigation, so I will desist from drawing any conclusions.
Power with responsibility
Coming back to the power of police to arrest, in my experience, every arrest is a power to be exercised with a great sense of responsibility. Because arrest means restraint on the other person’s fundamental right to freedom of movement.
No arrested person can be detained beyond 24 hours by the police without being produced before a magistrate. This ensures protection from illegal detention. Every arrest is a discretionary power to be exercised with total accountability. The police may or may not arrest. In both cases, the officer is answerable to his seniors and to courts.
Here is what the section of law on arrest says, and I quote here only the headline that is meaningful. Section 41 of Criminal Procedure Code says: When police ‘may’ arrest without warrant. The police ‘may’ arrest. It’s not ‘shall or must’ arrest. This is where the police officer on the spot gets the discretion by law. Now, the discretion which the officer exercises is scrutinised by the courts when the person arrested is produced before the magistrate. If the court feels the discretion has been abused, the court can even discharge the person and seek an explanation from the police. The police are defended in the court by the state prosecutor, who is not subordinate to the police. He is independent. Therefore, chances are that he will not defend before the court an unjustified arrest. The accused on production is made aware of the grounds of arrest. The accused has a right to defend and is also given legal aid in case he cannot afford a lawyer.
It is this discretion in power of arrest that comes under debate daily as it did in the incidents of both the JNU students and riotous lawyers.
Under court scrutiny
We may or may not agree with the timing or decision of arrests, but this is to make readers aware that justification of all arrests made or not made is scrutinised by courts. These are situational keeping in view several factors. Because it is the duty of the police to ensure law and order and not let it deteriorate. As then Delhi police commissioner BS Bassi said to the media that he did not order the spot arrest of the lawyers at Patiala House court “to avoid collateral damage or further aggravation of law and order situation”.
The courts, meanwhile, are reportedly issuing contempt notices to erring lawyers too. The Bar Council, too, is examining their conduct under the Advocates Act.
It’s a question of our believing or not believing in the judgment of police whenever they make arrests.
Over the years, we have been losing faith in police; we tend to doubt their intentions every time even when they are in keeping with the law or the discretion it gives. There is a thin line between prudence and cowardice.
The real test of such situations is the intention known only to the police officer in charge. But, we judge them and often doubt them, which is what makes the job of policing most challenging in polarised situations.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Smriti Irani Pulped Her Critics In Parliament

Listening to Smriti Irani responding to the Hyderabad and JNU student incidents on the floor of the House was mesmerising. It will remain historical for all times as one of the finest defence-attack speeches in parliament. It left "All the Men" and a "Few Women" speechless.

One could feel and see them awestruck. It was as if some gigantic force had hit them. Perhaps anticipating this, some "honorables" exited for they could not see themselves being pulped and trashed for their lies and hypocrisy so meticulously, piece by piece, bit by bit...

Smriti's entire life learning and the challenges she faced all along, which made her a woman of platinum as she is, came through every word, gesture and expression.

She backed every clarification with systematic evidence, which I relished most as a former cop. This is the most irrefutable way to demolish scheming adversaries when it is a vitriolic war of survival.

She has been facing their wrath right from Day One of her taking charge of the Ministry of Human Resources. Many times, the war between her detractors and her was one-sided for those who are bitten by her ascendance had easy access to and generous space in print and visual media. Panel after panel blared giving time to them to spit their venom against her, hurling all kinds of innuendoes. She did not come back always to counter. She let the barking dogs bark till either they would get tired or listeners had something more scintillating to hear.

This time she proved irrefutably why our Prime Minister included her in his Council of Ministers: he knew her capability, capacity, and extraordinary brilliance to articulate with courage and due diligence.

She laid out para by para why our children have grown up doubting India's rich heritage and its legends and asked why are they not proud of their lineage.

It was the way history books for children have been written by some writers who are alleged to be of doubtful credentials. Also, the manner in which these are being taught by teachers who are a by-product of the same contamination.

Bit by bit, day after day, Smriti Irani seems to be sweating to plough, extract, de-weed, re-seed, much to the chagrin of all those pseudo, entrenched, retired detractors regurgitating what was taught to them (Perhaps they chose to be fossilised and convinced that they alone knew best.)

There is a humongous work ahead for the HRD ministry. Smriti Irani as a mother realises that whatever she gets corrected or modified will create another generation of responders - ones who could either be at at war within and vulnerable to saboteurs, or those who grow up as alert citizen-soldiers in defence of the integrity of their own motherland while having the fundamental right to air their grievances (while doing so never allowing infidels to hijack them).

And certainly they must never ever share a platform with those questioning India's geographical boundaries, or blasting pillars of our hard-earned democracy.

Hence never befriend an enemy of the country, even if he shares a room, or a class. Change him if you can. Watch him as your duty. Remember your duty towards your mother-land.

Smriti's expose in parliament underlines the Herculean inadequacies inherited by this government in the errors of history as she substantiated.

An important question to ask ourselves: Is it this government's duty alone to save the future generations from these Himalayan blunders? Or is it not for every teacher and parent to ensure their sons and daughters are proud citizens of India? The sort who will know enough to distinguish between who is for Vision versus those for Division and some of course just for Television.