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Lalbazar limps over track record of rallies and requests

In many ways, Calcutta Police is truly impressive. Whenever the department chooses to apply itself, it seems to do a fine job of cracking cases, nabbing criminals and managing crowds. The department, however, appears to have become far too politicised for anyone’s comfort, often leaving officers twiddling their thumbs.

The raging issue over rallies and processions in the city is a case in point. A senior officer was quoted last week as insisting that no procession had been taken out that particular day. Photographs and reports carried in newspapers pointed to the contrary, leaving the impression that the police officer was just being stubborn. Later reports, however, suggest that the officer could actually have been ignorant. Political promoters of at least two processions were reported to have confessed that though they had informed the police of their intention, they had not received any formal permission from the department.

Taking silence for approval, they said, preparations for taking out the processions were on; which means that the police officer concerned could have been technically correct. Since no permission was presumably granted by the department, he could ‘truthfully’ insist that no procession had been taken out.

Record-keeping in government departments has always been suspect. There is also reason to believe that such records are often manipulated or maintained to suit the convenience of the department, the officials or just the establishment. Response of the police to ‘requests for permission to take out processions’ would indicate that the department, in all probability, maintains no record of such requests.

Such records, if at all they are maintained, could make for a fascinating study. They could also facilitate better planning. The records, for example, could indicate the organisations that took out the highest and the lowest number of processions in the city during the past five years.

They could also reveal the routes taken by the processions, the number of participants, their demographic profile, the slogans raised, the speakers who addressed the gathering, the resolutions taken, and so on. In addition, the time taken by such processions to cover a stretch, dislocation of traffic and the disruption at crossings, etc, could provide the inputs necessary for the police to manage the processions better.

What, however, appears to be happening is that the department, in many cases, is not even informed of such plans in advance. In the case of the ruling Left Front, police apparently do not even want to be informed. In rare cases, when formal requests are submitted, organisers clearly do not wait for the police to issue a formal permission. The approval is taken for granted and Lalbazar, apparently, does not think it necessary to either issue such formal permission or to book the ‘leaders’ if they take out processions without the express permission of the police.

It is also by no means clear what the police do after receiving such ‘requests’. Do they set a process in motion by which they acquire feedback from different police stations falling on the route' It is not certain if there is any consultation with any agency before granting permission. Nor, for that matter, is there any evidence that the police have ever suggested to the organisers that they either defer the procession by a day or two or they follow a different route or they change their timings. Many of the bottlenecks are created, one suspects, because of the passive role of the police. They are required to be pro-active, both by the law and by citizens.

What, indeed, can the police do if ‘spontaneous’ processions hit the streets' Well, they can call for reinforcements and stop the processions at the nearest possible point, to minimise disruptions on the road. They can also initiate cases against the ‘leaders’ and ensure that they are forced to visit the court, obtain bail and face a trial.

If necessary, the police can use water jets to disperse the assembly. But while Delhi Police can be seen using water jets on such occasions, Calcutta Police appears reluctant to use such a highly effective method.

Finally, what the police can do is ensure that everyone is informed in advance of the likely disruptions, the route and the time. Even taxi drivers often have no clue about roads being shut down for traffic and for how long.

A system of disseminating such information at airports, railway stations, bus stops, etc, would go a long way to enable citizens plan their movement better.

Whatever happens in the courtroom, the police will have to play a part. One just hopes that the court will issue necessary directions to the state government to overhaul its traffic signal and information system, arrange for water jets and provide wireless communication system to the traffic cops.

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