Securing aam aadmi: VIP security culture needs a serious rethink
Policing in India is highly inequitable. Here lives of some citizens seem to be much more important than others. And this is because of what is known as the VIP syndrome.
The recent road rage in Gaya, where the Janata Dal United MLC Manorama Devi's son Rakesh Ranjan Yadav alias Rocky Yadav allegedly killed a local businessman’s son, Aditya Sachdeva, reveals, among others, the misuse of the VIP security system in the country. In this gory incident, Rocky was accompanied by “a security guard provided by the Bihar Police for the politician”. In other words, the police, whose job is to protect people’s lives, facilitated here in taking away a life. The “protector” here was in the side of the killer. Secondly, the policeman here was supposed to provide security, at the state’s expense, to Manorama Devi, not her “killer son”.
The question here is whether Manorama Devi really deserved the VIP security, or it is a status symbol, something the VIP security system seems to have degenerated into, in reality. And as a degenerating system, it is not only so in Bihar but also in the rest of the country. The system now is terribly beset with some serious structural handicaps. In fact, the Rocky-incident reminds of the fratricidal episode relating to liquor-baron Ponty Chadha in Delhi few years ago. Ponty Chadha was a VIP getting state security. But then, what is important to note here is that though he was ordinarily a resident of Delhi, his personal security officers (PSOs) were from Punjab Police. And this at a time when the Punjab Police was not adequate enough (it is still inadequate) to spare its personnel to provide security to persons living outside the state.
The VIP security implies that some people get more protections from the state than the rest, though ideally the state is supposed to protect the lives of “all”, whether big or small. According to a 2012 report of the Bureau of Police Research and Development, 47,557 personnel are protecting 14,842 VIPs across the country. As can be seen, here on an average, four policemen protect one VIP round the clock. But what about the ordinary people of the country?
It so happens that India is one of the least policed countries of the world. As per data available through an answer to a parliamentary question in 2014, for every one lakh (100,000) ordinary Indians, there are only 136.42 policemen available. This is in sharp contrast to the corresponding figure of 315 in the United States, 200 in the United Kingdom and 290 in Australia. A recent report suggests that all states and Union Territories have police vacancy of nearly six lakh against the sanctioned strength of over 20.80 lakh policemen across the country. Obviously, this huge gap between the requirement and reality takes a toll on policing on the ground.
Obviously, policing in India is highly inequitable. Here lives of some citizens seem to be much more important than others. And this is because of what is known as the VIP syndrome. The cream of our police personnel is engaged in providing VIP security. But then, there is no transparent method of determining who is a VIP to be provided that security. As we have seen, we had Ponty Chadha of Delhi being provided security by the Punjab Police when Punjab itself has been terribly short of adequate policing.
Interestingly, not long ago the Punjab and Haryana High Court had directed the state government to remove “the ugly security tents that dot over 60 ministers & MLAs, 12 officials and 75 judges' homes across Chandigarh”. The court said that compared to ordinary people, the persons concerned did not face any security threats and that they kept the security men “more as a status symbol”. But what was worse was that in March 2012, it was discovered that about 2,800 Punjab policemen—the strength of three battalions- were deployed as cooks, drivers, gardeners and even masseurs in VIP households across Punjab!
But then Punjab, where over 8,000 police personnel, constituting more than one-tenth of the 70,000 strong police force, are engaged in VIP duty is not the only state doing anything unique. The practice is rampant all over the country. In fact, as a state, it is Bihar which has the highest percentage of its police personnel that is devoted to provide VIP security. According to an estimate by the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D), 3,030 VIPs in Bihar enjoyed security provided by more than 10,000 policemen, about 10-12 percent of the existing strength of the state police force around 70,000, including 400 deputy superintendents of police, 13,000 inspectors, sub-inspectors, assistant sub-inspectors. And this in spite of the fact that the police-public ratio in Bihar is far less than the national average—Bihar has only 79 policemen for one lakh population!
Similarly, take the case of Assam, one of the most troubled states in the country. Here too, out of the total police strength of around 70,000 personnel, more than 8,000 policemen are engaged in the security of the VIPs. Likewise, how is the situation in the National Capital? Delhi Police may be the world’s biggest metropolitan police force with sanction for 83,762 personnel. But the reality is that only around 30 percent of the existing strength of 60,000 is actually available for general policing, that is, taking care of nearly 20 million people. Because, more than 14,000 of 60,000 Delhi Police personnel provide security to 8,800 VIPs in the metropolis.
But this is not all. Many Delhi VIPs also get additional security cover of National Security Guard (NSG). The Special Protection Group (SPG) protects the present Prime Minister, families of former prime minister Manmohan Singh and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi and Robert Vadera. In fact, the annual budget of the SPG is now over Rs 3,000 crore. And if you add the annual budget of NSG of over Rs 200 crore, not to speak of the expenditure incurred by the Delhi Police and the police in various states, the cost of the VIP security will touch a huge figure. Apparently, this cost is being adjusted out of the overall budgeting of the internal security, thus compromising on the security of the countless ordinary people of the country.
Incidentally, during his first term in 2014, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had decided to live like an aam aadmi (common man), spurning any police security. But today, he too seems to have fallen victim to the VIP syndrome. According to press reports, Kejriwal is given a customised Z-plus category security that comprises of around 25 to 30 armed personnel, two escort cars and house guards. Under the customised security plan, a team of officers also monitor his movement, the details of which are shared with other security agencies. But the Delhi chief minister is not reportedly happy with the security provided to him by the Delhi Police. According to the Hindustan Times, he is planning to have 10 well-built and well-trained young men from the civil defence wing to guard him and be part of his security entourage when he travels out of Delhi. Unlike Delhi police that is under the Central government, the civil defence wing falls under the state government.
Be that as it may, the VIP list needs to be pruned as far as free-security is concerned. When he was the home minister, P Chidambaram had undertaken such an exercise. The home Ministry had drastically downsized the number of VIPs, particularly those getting NSG cover. But such was the power that the affected VIPs enjoyed under the then ruling establishment that Chidambaram’s exercise came a cropper. No VIP was prepared to shed his or her security cover, which, over the years, has come to be seen as a status symbol rather than protecting his or her life. Things remain the same under the Modi regime, more or less. The only thing that the present government has done is to ask some VIPs and their establishments (such as Ram Dev and Mukesh Ambani) to pay for the security provided by the Central forces.
Under normal circumstances, in a country that respects the rules of law and the spirit behind them, determining the security needs of a person is the job of the professional security experts. But in India what happens is that it is the political bosses (home ministers, chief ministers/Prime Minister) who often determine who will be provided special security by overruling the recommendations of the officials of the committees that are meant for this very purpose. This phenomenon has become all the more perverse over the recent years under coalition regimes. Unstable governments have been forced to accede to the demands of the leaders of the coalition partners and supporters and they include religious persons, journalists and businessmen - who view security strictly as a status symbol.
Needless it is to say that PSOs provided by the State are often misused by the beneficiaries. No wonder why once in Punjab when a woman president of a religious organisation was charged with murder, her PSO, an ASI of Punjab Police, was the prime accused. And no wonder why a constable of the Uttarakhand Police, a PSO of one visitor, has been under the scanner for his role in the murders of Ponty Chadha and his brother. And it seems that the PSO of Manorama Devi has incited Rocky Yadav to fire at the boys whose car was a temporary stumbling block for his Land Rovers to overtake.
Obviously the VIP-security needs a serious relook as a system.
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