Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Cops’ odd behavior makes RTI activists ask, “What are they hiding?”

Tuesday 22 June, Mumbai,

On Saturday, RTI activists’ alarm bells started ringing when a dozen cops in police van no. MH01-SA-3313 parked on Western Express Highway near Borivli National Park, behaved strangely. A posse of cops loitering outside the compound of an under-construction high-rise building belonging to matka-king-turned-builder Pappu Sawla refused to identify themselves or their superior officer. A couple of them covered their name plates with their hand when activist Krishnaraj Rao tried to note their names. They also avoided identifying the senior officer in charge of their van when asked, until the police control room was contacted.

Rao had approached the cops saying that he wanted to report destruction of a public property. The footpath that the cops were standing on was being driven over by trucks and drilling rigs entering the construction site from the highway. Rao asked the cops to check whether the contractor had any papers authorizing this. To his chagrin, the cops shied away. So much for Mumbai Police vaunted campaign asking people to be Alert Citizens!

In the midst of this heated argument (at about 11.40 pm), activist Girish Mittal, who was passing by, dialed 100 Police Control Room and gave the phone to Rao. When Rao talked to the police headquarters about the cops’ strange behavior and tried to give the phone to the cops, they refused to take it, but pleaded, “Please get off the phone, we will tell you our senior’s name”. Then one cop reluctantly identified himself as Assistant Sub Inspector (ASI) S G Sarang and said he was in charge of the van. Sarang claimed that the vehicle was patrolling the highway from Dahisar to Goregaon, and had one constable each from many police stations between Dahisar and Goregaon.

Sarang then asked Rao to go with him to Kasturba Marg police station and register a complaint against the builder, to which the latter readily agreed. At the police station, however, duty officer Duduskar bluntly refused to register the complaint. (Note: Rao had approached Mr Duduskar and his boss, Senior Inspector Rajendra Thakur, the previous day. They had refused to write down a complaint, and told Rao to get directions from the municipal corporation first.)

Two years ago, activist G R Vora (98691 95785) had a similar experience near CST station when he tried to note down a traffic policeman’s name and badge number. The cop turned aggressive and nearly hauled him off to the nearby Azad Maidan police station. Only timely intervention by a very senior journalist, who was passing by, saved Vora from further unpleasantness. “Citizens are expected to produce their driving license and identification when cops demand it. So what gives cops the right to hide their identification?” asks Vora.

Activist Sunil Ahya (98200 71606) had a similar incident last year when he had an exchange with some traffic cops at Goregaon signal, and tried to read their nameplate and note down their names on his mobile. They turned abusive and threatened to take him to a police station. “It seems that policemen have still not got used to the idea that citizens can and will hold them accountable. They seem to believe that their authority entitles them to get away with anything,” remarks Ahya.

“If the cops are upholding the spirit of the law, they have nothing to fear from us,” avers Rao. “If they act suspicious, hide their names and intimidate citizens who ask them legitimate questions, what are the remedies before a citizen? Where should a citizen lodge a complaint against such behavior,” he asks.

Background information & Photos

“Sai-Iscon” construction work started on a plot (CTS no. 550, 551 and 552) that is said to belong to matka king Pappu Sawla (Also see Times of India, 20th June, page 5). This landlocked plot has no entry or exit other than the highway, and is therefore, construction is illegal as per Section 18 of Development Control (DC) Regulations. However, Section 22(5) of the regulations says that the Municipal Commissioner can order the occupants of the adjoining plot to give access. So, if Sai-Iscon is built without proper authorization to open a gate on the highway, the building will be “regularized” by using Rao’s building compound as thoroughfare, causing a nuisance. Rao phoned BMC’s 24-hour complaint line 1916 and submitted two complaints (No. 0720833366 and -68), and is struggling to get various authorities to sit up and take note of various violations.

Contrary to popular misconception that only the municipal corporation is responsible in preventing such illegalities, the police is also responsible as per the Indian Penal Code. However, because of police refusal to register complaints and take prompt action, and because of endless buck-passing between police, Mumbai’s municipal corporation, MMRDA, PWD and other authorities, builders get away with all sorts of illegalities and public-spirited citizens are frustrated in their efforts to bring them to book.

1. Photos of the patrol van & evasive cops outside construction site, taken by Rao:

2. Photos of the construction work violating numerous provisions: (i) destroying footpath near highway (ii) cutting trees (iii) carrying out piling work for foundation less than one metre away from adjoining building compounds:

Krishnaraj Rao

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