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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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Pester police play Cupid
- Couples assured of privacy from cops in popular haunts

Till now, the police were (in)famous for harassing and intimidating couples in open spaces. More often than not, it helped the men in uniform make a quick buck.

Suddenly, in a turnaround, just about a fortnight away from Valentine's Day, the cops are playing Cupid, inviting lovers to popular haunts such as the Victoria grounds and the Lakes.

The move comes in the wake of a barrage of complaints of extortion against the men in uniform, mostly in the Dhakuria Lakes area.

Anuj Sharma, deputy commissioner of police (south) has instructed his men: 'Don't harass lovers. If anyone lodges any complaint of harassment, you will have to go through a trace identification parade before the complainant. If he or she identifies you, you face strict punishment, which may extend to suspension.'

Police commissioner Prasun Mukherjee said: 'Harassment or extortion in the Lakes, Maidan or such public places by the odd rogue cop has come down appreciably, thanks to measures already taken. We have resolved to stop such incidents altogether. So, we have asked the police stations concerned to make people's visits to parks, lakes and such places a joyous experience.'

A couple being accosted by policemen patrolling the Lakes is quite a common occurrence. Constables sauntering around the area pick on couples, who seek solitude, threatening to book them for 'misconduct' even though they may have been exchanging sweet nothings.

Rogue policemen, on or off duty, often demand anything between Rs 20 and Rs 100, as a fee to ensure privacy.

'Every day, at least 300 couples visit the Lakes and spend several hours there. One sub-inspector is in charge of the place, and two constables patrol the area,' said a senior official of the south division.

Cops who extort lovers in other public places, such as the Maidan and the Victoria Memorial Hall grounds, too, are under the scanner.

'The situation in the Maidan is now under control. Even a few days ago, policemen from other police stations used to come to the Maidan and the Victoria grounds to collect bribes, ranging from Rs 5 to Rs 20. We caught them red-handed on several occasions. But they were let off with stern warnings for violating their jurisdiction,' said an official of Maidan police station.

Deputy commissioner Sharma told couples: 'The moment you face any harassment or unwanted intervention by the police, just lodge a complaint with me. And if you can identify the policeman, I assure you, action will be taken.'

Sharma's assurance, however, came with a rider: 'Our only request is that visitors should behave as per the socially-accepted standards of decency.'

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