One need not introduce R. Sri Kumar to anyone associated with the Karnataka police. Mr Sri Kumar was in the team that cracked the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. Then in early 2000, he headed STAMPIT, that cracked the stamp paper scam involving kingpin Abdul Karim Telgi. A former vigilance commissioner, Mr Sri Kumar is also into social activity and can authoritatively speak about use of technology in policing or in bringing reforms in the police force. In an interview with Deccan Chronicle, he spoke about jail irregularities and the Mangaluru communal violence. Here are excerpts.
The failure to contain communal clashes in Dakshina Kannada and the irregularities in jails were two episodes which brought the spotlight back on state police efficiency or inefficiency. Do you think these two episodes brought a bad name to Karnataka police?
Karnataka police are always facing ‘tension.’ One or the other issue gets highlighted in the media. But I feel, some of the basic issues were never highlighted. Reforms did not happen in the manner it should have. Here and there, they take up patch work. If some major crime happens, they do something and then they forget to address the fundamental issues.
You mentioned about fundamental problems. What are they?
The police force needs total reform. There are different areas, jails, prosecution, the criminal justice system-all these issues are not getting proper attention. Then there is a nexus between police, criminals and politicians. These issues never get highlighted nor are they addressed properly.
Do you think the issues you raised just now have any direct or indirect connection with the two episodes we discussed first?
It is not the first time that coastal Karnataka has witnessed such an incident. Ever since the Chittaranjan murder happened in the early Nineties, the coast has been communally sensitive. To solve this, we have to give freedom to the police to act fearlessly. It does not happen. Be it a communal issue in the coast or jail irregularities, both have a common factor- corruption. When I was the DG, an inspector from Dakshina Kannada got promoted as ASP. Now, we have a rule that when an inspector gets promoted, he has to move out of the place. I proposed a newly recruited IPS officer there. But the government rejected my proposal and the promotee was posted as ASP. Later several incidents happened and that officer got exposed and he had to be removed from that place. You need to post officers with integrity to these places, not on political considerations. And once posted, they have to be there for two years.
Now what’s happening is: the postings happen based on the recommendation of local MLAs or the minister. Under such a system, we can’t solve communal issues.
Besides the political interference, there might be police ineptness. What exactly could be the reason for the recent communal incidents- interference or ineptness?
I would like to reply from a different perspective. You have to first understand the environment in which the police officials deal with such issues. Law has to be enforced and to do this, you need tools and techniques to get information. When the public are on mobiles, the police are on a wireless network. Do sub-inspectors have official mobiles? For instance, if you have a digitised control room, any caller’s location can automatically be found. And the call will be routed to the local police station.
Then there should be an artificial intelligence system to give more inputs about the caller’s history or other details. The call should directly go to the officer who handles it. If there is no action at the first level, it has to go to the second level. You have to have such a system to address any issue related to policing. We should constantly improve the system.
You mean to say such a system is lacking here in Karnataka?
Yes. Men may come and go but a robust system must be put in place. Telangana, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi have put in place advanced systems. When a communal incident or rape is reported we debate, then we forget.
What can the state do now?
(smiles) There are detailed reports submitted umpteen times in the past. Go back, take out those files and study them. Then compare them with the system in other places like Delhi or Telangana. You should implement the best one.
In coastal Karnataka, a large section of minorities feel the police force is full of Hindus, so they are biased and communal. How do you perceive this?
This is precisely why I insist that police should be professional. If you are professional, this issue can be solved. We have a Constitution and we have a police manual which should guide us, not political considerations. A crime is a crime no matter who commits it.
But in Karnataka we have a new trend of dropping of cases. When the BJP was in power, it dropped cases filed by the previous government against its workers. Then came the Congress which also dropped cases filed by the previous BJP government against Muslims. For argument’s sake, we can understand the rationale behind dropping of terror cases foisted on innocents. But what about cases against those involved in rioting or involved in damaging public property? Why can’t the police put its foot down and say no to this trend?
The police’s job is to investigate the crime, collect evidence and file the chargesheet. Then comes the prosecution. The director of prosecution is the one who deals with these cases. If you (politicians) interfere and try to direct the prosecution, the system will collapse. The court should decide on dropping of these cases.
But many say Karnataka police is gripped by problems like groupism- officers from Karnataka versus non-Karnataka officers. Then the IPS lobby versus others. How can you develop a good force under such circumstances?
(smiles) No, I do not think so. I think the issue is not about what you said. The real issue is whether you are professional and committed to the job or not. We have three categories in our force. Some are honest and thorough professionals. There are others who are unprofessional and corrupt. The third category is: unprofessional and corrupt yet sometimes they become professional.
The other observation is: Karnataka police are not evolved like say, Mumbai police. We are still in the mindset of the eighties or nineties. Is this true?
I do not agree. I can quote several examples here but I will cite only one. The bomb blast in churches happened in early 2000. Do you know who cracked the case? There was a time when four states, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Goa were competing to crack the case. Finally, it was Karnataka police who cracked it. It was Deendar Anjuman which was behind this. But the three criminals who masterminded this are in Pakistan. Have we done anything to bring them back. Has the Centre done anything? No.
You spoke about political interference. Do you feel that police reforms can happen from within?
I for one believe that reforms should start from within. Then you can bring about real change.