Misra Commission Report
DELHI CHAPTER - 5
ROLE OF POLICE
Speaking about the strength of the Police force of Delhi, the then Police Commionser Tandon has said :
“At that time there were about 22,000 Constables, 3,000 Head Constables, 900 Asstt. Sub-Inspectors, 1,500 Sub-Inspectors, 500 Inspectors, about 200 Asstt. Commissioners of Police, 35 Dy. Commissioners of Police, 6 Addl. Commissioner of Police and one Police Commissioner in the Delhi Police stablishment.”
Delhi at that time was divided into five police districts and 63 police stations and there were 25 police posts. It is a fact that the police establishment had not been expanded commensurate with the expansion of the population and problems. The police administration had been of the view that a greater number of police stations was necessary to exercise effective control and the outlying areas which were thinly populated and into which revenue villages had been included required more of attention.
Every police station has a Station House Officer of the Inspector’s rank and to it are attached a definite number of Sub-Inspectors, Asstt. Sub-Inspectors, Head Constables and Constables. At the headquarters, there is a Central Control Room. Every police station is fitted with wireless arrangement for keeping immediate contact with the headquarters as also the Control Room. The police force of Delhi is a part of the Delhi Administration and members of the force are not transferable outside Delhi. Once someone is taken into employment he is assured of service (subject to disciplinary control and adverse orders, if any) within the compact territory and transfer from one police station to another is not a serious matter for the officer as it hardly involves a distance of 30 - 40 km. at the most. The Commissioner of Police is necessarily a senior IPS officer but the set up of Delhi Administration has become such that he is under the administrative control of the Home Secretary of the Delhi Administration who very often is a comparatively junior officer of the Indian Administrative Service. Some times misunderstanding creeps up in regard to exercise of this control on account of this situation. Under the constitutional scheme the President being in over all charge of the administration and such administration being run with the aid and advice of the Cabinet, the Home Ministry of the Central Government is the authority to exercise the controlling jurisdiction. But the Administrator designated as Lt. Governor is in direct charge of law and order and the Police Commissioner is certainly subject to his control.
As mentioned in another part of the Report, Shri S.C.Tandon, IPS, was the Police Commissioner at the relevant time. He had the authority both to promulgate orders under section 144, Cr. P. C. as also impose curfew. Beat system prevailing earlier in Delhi had been abandoned for quite some time. No one could tell the Commission the precise reason for such abandonment. The general criticism against the Indian Police that it failed to take note of the changed situation in the country following independence and did not adapt itself to the requirements of an independent welfare State applies equally or even in a greater degree to the Delhi Police. Undoubtedly the police during the British regime was intended to be a protector of the interests of the foreign ruler. Though the Britishers left and India had its own people to govern, the special loyalty to the people in power which was the hangover of the British imperial tradition continued. The police failed even to realise that its new masters in free India were the common people of India.
On October 31, after the Home Secretary had alerted the State administration, Delhi Police had also been alerted in its turn. Prohibitory orders under s.144 , Cr. P. C. had been promulgated by the Police Commissioner. Wireless instructions had also been issued to the Police Stations. On October 31, itself instructions marked ‘ Secret’ and ‘Most Immediate ’ and with the subject-title “Special precautions to be taken for maintenance of law and order in Delhi ” were issued to all Addl. Commissioner of Police, all Disttold/Unit DCP’s including Principal, PTS and FRRO. Therein the justification for issuing those directions was explained thus :
“In view of the extremely tragic incident of assassination of the Prime Minister of India at the hands of two police personnel belonging to a particular community which may provide a reaction from other communities, there is a need for putting the entire police force in the Union Territory of Delhi on alert and take adequate steps for maintenance of law and order and communal harmony in the Union Territory. All senior police officers may make suitable arrangements in their respective District Unit to achieve these objectives.”
Under paragraph 2 the aims and objectives of the police arrangements were stated to be :
- Maintenance of law and order and crowd control;
- Providing adequate security to the VVIPs;
- Arrangements to regulate the crowds who come to pay homage to the departed soul and suitable arrangements for funeral procession;
- Maintenance of communal harmony and ensuring normal city life;
- Protection to places of worship and vital installations.
These instructions more or less remained on paper and the police of Delhi visibly failed to rise to the occasion as a professional force. The brutal killing of revered leader like Smt. Gandhi, Prime Minister of India, certainly wounded the feelings of every Indian. That was legitimate. Individually, every policeman in Delhi had justification to feel sorry and even mentally injured on such an occasion and the suddenness of the news and particularly when two men drawn from the disciplined force were the authors of the crime there was scope for being overtaken by a stunning effect. But if the Delhi Police had the requisite professional approach and training, the temporary obsession brought about by the sudden event could not continue to colour and cloud the vision as also the thought process and conscience of the police force. The call of duty should have helped the police force to revive from the temporary sunning effect and the instructions issued in the manner indicated should have been scrupulously followed.
There is abundant evidence before the Commission that the Police on the whole did not behave properly and failed to act as a professional force. Telephone No. 100 which is meant for notifying for police assistance did not respond at all during that period. The police stations when contacted on telephone ordinarily did not respond and if there was any response it was a plea of inability to assist. The behaviour of most policeman was shabby in the sense that they allowed people to be killed, houses to be burnt, property to be looted, ladies to be dragged and misbehaved with in their very presence. Their plea was that they were a few and could not meet the unruly armed mob usually of hundreds or thousands. Some senior police officers had taken the stand that the community was in a frenzy and to meet the cruel mob greater strength of force was necessary. Obviously, the police could not expect that their number had to be equal to that of the miscreants. A professional police force by its expertise, experience and training was expected to meet any challenge and was not to seek cover under an umbrella of excuses based upon instructions in archaic Police Rules. Has any hero been heard of opening his Scriptures when he suddenly meets a challenge to his life ?
Though senior police officers have denied that there was any active support or association of the police with the crowds and the Commission does not have any denfinte material against named policemen of having played such role, it is difficult to reject the allegation as baseless. The Commission is of the view that detailed investigation/inquiry should be undertaken to find out whether some policemen of the Delhi Administration had not behaved that way. The then Lt. Governor Gavai in his evidence before the Commission has stated :
“The flow of reports of actual happenings was not coming. Lt. Governor’s channel for information was through the establishment of the Commissioner of Police.”
Police Commissioner Tandon stated to the Commission :
“Evidently the SHOs were not feeding the district police control room from where the police control room was intended to be fed It would be wrong to say that the police adminstration had collapsed during that period. However, there was failure in certain areas where local officers did not rise to the occasion. . Areas from where killings had taken place on large scale were identified as Trilokpuri in P.S. Kalyanpuri, some other police stations in East Delhi such as Nandnagri; Palam Village in P.S. Delhi Cantt; Srinivaspuri; Mangolpuri and Sultanpuri in West Distt; Jahangirpuri in North District. There may be some more areas details of which I have to check up.”
He even specified the names of some of the delinquent police officers. According to him the SHO of Kalyanpuri had to be suspended and taken into custody alongwith some of his subordinates and a handful of other officers of other police stations had to be transferred and inquiries were instituted against them. According to the Police Commissioner Tandon, where the local police officers behaved properly the trouble had been minimum or avoided depending upon the initiative, courage and leadership of the local officers. Where the local officer lacked this or failed to rise to the occasion, the trouble spread and life and property were lost. Police Commissioner Tandon exhibited poor knowledge of many aspects. He failed to indicate what exactly should have been the strength for the Police in Delhi. He did not know the strength for the jhuggi dwellers even by estimate or their percentage to the total population : nor was he aware of the total number of fire stations in the Union Territory of Delhi. According to his records the total number of deaths during the riots in Delhi was less than a thousand-to be precise, 970, while Government has put the figure well over 2300. It is a fact that Police Commissioner Tandon had been transferred out of Delhi on November 11, 1984, but by then he should have been able to get a near to actual figure of deaths if his administration had been functioning properly.
Shri Ved Marwah, the present Police Commissioner has said :
“I have found out that during the Novmeber 1984 riots information available with the local police did not flow into the police control room. Absence of such information caused failure of proper assessment to be made at the Headquarters and on account of want of proper feed back, steps which could have been taken to control further degeneration of the situation could not be taken. Such instances were quite a good number. If timely information had been received the evaluation made at the Headquarters would have certainly been different. Though I am not in a position to say whether the situation could have been brought under control in the background of such information being available, it is certainly a fact that a different outlook would have developed to meet the situation.
Additional Commissioner Jatav has told the Commission that he got the information of killings in Kalyanpuri only at 7 p.m. on November 2, 1984 and this he checked from his records and stated. Kalyanpuri is 12 km away from the Police Headquarters. As already mentioned, more than 200 people died in the area and on his own showing these took place during the night of November 1. Such a brutal incident taking place within a distance of 12 km. from the Headquarters not to be known to the Addl. Commissioner of the area for well over 16-18 hours easily gives the impression that the police administration had virtually become ineffective during that period. The version of the officer that higher officers were taking rounds has become not acceptable in view of his statement that during that disturbed condition the information from Kalyanpuri area could not travel to the police headquarters. There are many pockets in the city inhabited by more of Sikhs with which no attempt was made to keep contact either by taking rounds or otherwise. Jatav has assessed that 25% of Delhi Police personnel became indifferent.
Addl. Commissioner Kaul has stated to the Commission :
“There was a break-down of communication particulary between the outlying areas of the Union Territory with the police headquarters. This was so for the first three days namely 31-10-84 and 1st and 2nd November, 1984.
He has also stated :
“One incident was noticed in my area namely Delhi Cantt. where an incident of a serious nature was not even brought to the notice of the DCP (South) for three days, and it was only through some non police sources that the DCP, South managed to get hold of informtion and then began to inquire into the event.”
Shri R.S. Sethi, the then District Magistrate of Delhi and now Commissioner of Lands, DDA , told the Commission :
“My impression is that the senior police officers were anxious to maintain law and order at any cost. They were, however, not fed with appropriate and timely information by the police officers in the different areas in the field. I am prepared to substantiate this impression of mine by the facts. For instance, in Trilokpuri killings were about 260. The Commissioner of Police in the meeting called by the Lt. Governor on the basis of information collected by him, disclosed this figure to be between 20 and 30. Same was the situation in Palam Colony. As against actual deaths of 300, the police statement disclosed deaths of about 30-40 persons. I moved from house to house in Palam Colony alongwith Mr. Ashok Pradhan who was helping in relief operations. I saw charred dead bodies and otherwise also several dead bodies lying here and there. I saw the same situation in Trilokpuri area. My own impression is that the local police did not at all act effectively in controlling the situation.”
In answering the question of the Commission as to whether it was a case of positive negligence or one of callousness or inattention, Shri Sethi stated :
“I do not think it is a case of open participation but to my mind it seems to be a case where under pressure they remained away from duty and ceased to be effective with a few exceptions. Some SHOs were very effective and dutiful. About 25 to 30% of these SHOs were found effective. All others remained indifferent and did not come up to the mark.
The Commission wanted a clarification as to the meaning of ‘pressure’and Shri Sethi stated :
“I refer to local political pressure but in the absence of any positive material I cannot name the source of pressure. It is, however, a fact that the police remained ineffective as if something had happened to keep them away from their duty.”
Shri Sethi further said :
“My impression is that had the police done the appropriate planning and on 31-10-84 apprehended that the situation may turn worse, by themselves with a little assistance and moral support from the Army they would have been able to maintain law and order effectively and nothing to that extent would have happened.”
In the opinion of the Commission this is reasonable assessment of the situation. Police Commissioner Tandon should not have felt satisfied that by promulgation of prohibitory order under section 144, Cr. P.C. the situation would be brought under effective control. More of useful planning should have been undertaken and the line of action from the afternoon or at least the night of October 31, 1984 should have been different. Some higher police officers should have been deputed to move about in different areas to activise the local police and to instill in them the dual sense of duty and confidence. If the Army had to be called that matter should not have been deferred till the next morning. Killing of Smt. Gandhi was not a small matter and everyone should have reasonably apprehended serious repercussions. The then Lt. Governor did have such apprehensions as told by him. Since Government had already alerted the Army, the Lt. Governor and the Police Commissioner should have called in the Army and asked them to patrol during the 31st evening and night in the sensitive localities. If at the right time police action had started with the number of the police force available the entire situation would have remained under control. Police Commissioner Tandon’s own statement is the best material to rely upon for such conclusion. He has said that wherever the local police behaved, the situation did not go bad at all or very much. It is not the stand of Shri Tandon that wherever the police are said to have behaved like a disciplined force, there was an adequate force available. Therefore, inadequacy of police personnel does not seem to be the real cause. On the other hand, Shri Sethi’s statement that the police became indifferent appears to the real one. As has been pointed out in the book entitled “Law and Order Reconsidered” (Praeger Publishers, New York) :
“Civil order, like a fire, can rapidly grow out of control unless it is dealt with quickly in the very early stage. During the first minute of a disorder, a hundred well trained and commanded policemen can often prove more important and effective than one thousand men a few hours later.”
Several riot-victims alleged in their affidavits that while the police made no attempt to drive away the riotous mobs moving about in the streets fully armed, they made a systematic attempt to take away the licensed arms available with the Sikhs. Though there may have been some embellishment in the description of the manner in which the police took away the fire arms, the Commission is satisfied that fire arms had been taken away from the Sikhs during that period. Allegations of this type have been investigated in many instances and the conclusion is in line with the allegation. The police had taken the stand that the arms were taken away as there was apprehension of Sikhs using the arms for killing the people in the mob who were attacking them and damaging their property, and in case such incidents happened, the mobs would get more infuriated and the riots would become more widespread. It has also been their stand that there had been some instances of killing by the Sikhs and to minimise armed confrontation this had been done. Undoubtedly, overawed by the riotous mobs moving in the streets and endangering the safety of person and property of people belonging to the Sikh community, in certain areas Sikhs had formed themselves into groups for self-defence. Law permits use of even fire arms in some eventualities in self-defence of person and property. If the police were able to control the riotous mob certainly they were entitled in a given situation to temporarily take away the licensed fire arms with a view to easing the situation. But when riotous mobs could not be controlled - and this is the admitted position - in the face of the law authorising the right of private defence to be exercised with the aid of fire arms, if necessary and justified, it was not at all proper on the part of the police to withdraw the licensed fire arms from some of the people belonging to the group which was being attacked and thus expose the weaker group to greater risk in the hands of rioters. The Commission is not in a position to approve of this conduct on the part of the police.
As an illustrative instance of humane attitude of some of the police officers during the riots a reference may be made to the particulars in the affidavits of Smt. Joginder Kaur (no. 2450). She was a resident of Palam Colony, one of the worst affected areas during the riots. She has stated :
“On November 3, 1984 when we were hiding in the bushes the mob came towards that side. They had torches and lights with them. They spotted us in the bushes and caught hold of us. I told them that we were Hindus but they saw the turban marks on the heads of my sons. They said “you are Sardars. You have got your hair cut just now.” The mob started beating both of my sons. At this I said in Hindi ‘We are Hindus, Do no beat us.’ There upon one person out of the mob came out and said, “Listen to them carefully. Don’t say them anything.” He asked the other men to take us to the Mandir and keep us there. When we were being taken to the Mandir some people tried to hit my sons with sword and iron rods but I came forward and thus rescued my sons. The sword hit my leg which started bleeding profusely. In the Mandir, to save us, the Pujari sent us inside the Mandir and locked the gate from outside. The Pujari asked us to sit there and that he will send us to Gurudwara when the curfew is lifted. This was the Shivmandir of Sagarpur. Outside the Mandir the mob was shouting at Pujari and threatened to break open the lock. They also tried to break open the lock. This continued for a long time and in the meantime many more persons joined the mob. Then somebody shouted that the Mandir be set on fire if the Pujari did not open the lock. When they poured kerosene oil from the grill of the Mandir and tried to set it on fire, I dashed my forehead at the feet of Devi and prayed Her to appear and save us. My sons started weeping loudly alongwith me . At that time one person who had wrapped a blanket around himself came forward and asked the mob not to set the Mandir on fire. That man asked, “Sister, where have you to go? I told him that we had to go to Maharani Bagh. He said that he is also from that side and he would save us. But I did not believe him. He told me that he has the key of the back door and that he is a Police Inspector and has also a revolver with him. He removed his blanket and showed me the revolver. He was wearing a police uniform. He showed me his identity card also and upon this I believed him. Then he made an announcement at the loudspeaker of the Mandir, Extremists have arrived towards the Railway line. Run for your lives.” Many from the mob ran towards the line and he made us come out from the back gate. He called 5-6 more persons and instructed them that we have to be saved. Hardly had he taken us for some distance that the mob returned and surrounded us. Some people in the mob enquired from the Police Inspector that why he was taking the two Sardar children and thereby putting them to a loss of Rs. 500 each. The mob told the Inspector that they would not allow the Sardar children to go. At this the Inspector drew out his revolver and one more man drew out his revolver and threatened the mob to shoot anybody who will come forward. The mob retreated and they took us out from that place. In the way, two persons accompanying the Inspector also removed their blankets. Two of them were in police uniforms. One of them was a Police Inspector and he told me that he is a Police Inspector. They accompanied us up to and left us at Gurudwara Sadar Cantt.”
This indeed is one of instances where one member of the police force rose to the occasion and rescued the lives of three persons of the Sikh community.
The Commission made a serious attempt to identify this particular officer but in the absence of any definite clue, it became difficult to locate him. One of the reasons why this was attempted is to find out why a few of these police officers had covered themselves with blankets in the manner described. Though it has not been suggested-and much less relied upon as a contention-the Commission intended to discover if the reason for such covering up was to conceal police identity on account of the situation that they were a few in number and had become apprehensive of their own security in the presence of the riotous mobs.
There is evidence which the Commission cannot ignore that on several occasions when fire tenders started moving to places of arson on receiving intimation, the mobs blocked the passage and held them up or forced them to return. On several occasions this was done in the presence of the police. It is well- known that fire tenders have precedence of movement on the roads for they move to answer an emergency, yet the police did not attempt to clear the way.
Several instances have come to be narrated where police personnel in uniform were found marching behind, or mingled in, the crowd. Since they did not make any attempt to stop the mob from indulging in criminal acts, an inference has been drawn that they were part of the mob and had the common intention and purpose. Some instances, though few in number, have also been noticed where policemen in uniform have participated in looting.
There is some force in the allegation of DSGMC that the police had no business to change the method of recovery of stolen goods. Ordinarily, the place where stolen articles are stored—be it a house or some other place—is searched, recoveries of identified articles are made, on the basis of such recoveries prosecution is launched and the possession of identified stolen property constitutes good evidence for the offence punishable under sections 411 and 412, IPC and provides a presumptive link for the offence. During the riots, the police instead of following this known method, adopted a novel one of inviting the culprits to pile up the stolen articles in the open near the houses from where the removal had been made. By this process, the best evidence linking the accused with the offence vanished. Such of the articles which were returned belonged to several persons and were mixed up. Very often, as alleged, they were taken away from there by others and even by policemen. Since the Commission has not been told the justification of the adoption of this novel and uncanny procedure, the suggestion of the victims that this procedure helped misappropriation of some of the articles cannot be ruled out. The Commission has, however, no intention to act on surmises and leaves this aspect to be taken up in the inquiry against the police officers as recommended by it.
Surprisingly the Delhi Administration has supported the action of the police and seriously attempted to extend cover for the lapses. In the written submissions on behalf of the Administration reliance has been placed on different provisions of the Punjab Police Rules, 1934, which perhaps have been kept in force under s. 149(1) of the Delhi Police Act, 1978. The Punjab Police Rules were made at a time when the country was under shackles of foreign domination. The role of the police under the foreign ruler was meant to be different. The long title of the 1978 Police Act says that it was an Act to amend and consolidate the law relating to the regulation of the police in the Union Territory of Delhi. The entire position should have been reviewed when a revamping was attempted by introduction of a new law and if the Punjab Rules were found insufficient, inadequate or archaic to meet the demands of times, proper rules should have been made. There was no necessity or justification to continue those antiquated Rules under the new Act. Want of a riot squad in the Delhi Police has also been advanced as a justification for the police conduct. The Commission notices with disapproval such a stand by the Administration. Perhaps that could have been advanced as a justification on behalf of Delhi Police if it was being indicated by the Administration but the Administration should not take that stand. By October 1984 riots had become too frequent in India and under the excuse or cover of every available plea based upon economic, religious, political and social issues society was being victimised by riots now and then. Delhi and neghbouring places had seen riots on more than one occasion. It is difficult for the Commission to appreciate that the Delhi Administration had not thought it appropriate to equip its Police with one or more riot squads. The Commission also is not in a position to appreciate the stand of the Delhi Administration that what “happened during 31st October to 3rd November, 1984 was not a problem of maintaining law and order but reflected the sudden and spontaneous national outburst culminating from the vacuum caused by an unprecedented and never Thought of murder of the Prime Minister of India”. As already found, what happened was certainly unprecedented and possibly beyond the range of advance comprehension. The stand that it was a spontaneous national outburst, which may be a fact, cannot be used as a ground to justify the behaviour of the Delhi Police. The spontaneous national outburst (reiterating the phrase of the Delhi Administration) did not bring about calamity of the type that happened in Delhi in other parts of the country. There are several places outside Punjab where the proportion of the Sikh population to the total local population is higher than at Delhi (here it being 6.33%). There are also other places where the Sikh population is sizeable yet social tranquillity was not disturbed in those places the way it was at Delhi mainly on account of effective control being exercised by the police who were incharge of maintaining law and order. It is a fact that for some time on October 31, 1984 there was a vacuum in the office of Prime Minister. That again is no ground for the Delhi Administration to rely upon. Even if there was a vacuum in the office of the Prime Minister, the Delhi Administration had no difficulty in functioning and a vacuum in the office of the Prime Minister was no justification of the police to misbehave (failure to behave according to the prescribed standards is a form of misbehaviour). The Delhi Administration has again contended that the police is essentially a civil force; its weaponry, exercise and control are meant to meet the situation arising out of small disturbances. The Delhi Police were already 30,000 strong as against the total population of around 65 lakhs. The proportion works out to one policemen for 200 people. This certainly cannot be said to be a totally inadequate police force though the Commission agrees that the strength should have been increased. The failure of the Administration to provide police with up-to-date equipment and make it an effective team of professional police men cannot again be advanced as a justifying ground for the police conduct. One’s own failure or lapse