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Bring on the good old beat constable

New Delhi, Sept. 8: One piece of statistics is enough to show why local intelligence-gathering remains poor in India: the country has one intelligence staffer per 130sqkm and 40,000 people.

The revelation came on a day President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh extolled the virtues of basic policing and the importance of the beat constable.

At the annual conference of directors-general of police hosted by the Intelligence Bureau, Singh rued that the police’s system of intelligence collection was languishing at a time an erosion was being witnessed in inter-community relations.

Referring to the situation that arose out of the Assam violence last month, the Prime Minister said it was important to secure the assistance of saner citizens to marginalise the intolerant and aggressive.

“We must train our police personnel to develop these soft skills. The grassroots information and intelligence collection systems that have traditionally been a part of policing have languished in some places,” he said.

Mukherjee told a visiting delegation at Rashtrapati Bhavan that in rural areas, the government is symbolised by the man in uniform. A large majority of Indians form their opinion of the government on the basis of the local policeman’s efficiency and response to their concerns, he said.

Intelligence Bureau director Nehchal Sandhu told the conference that while recruitment and training of police and paramilitary personnel was proceeding fast enough, intelligence-gathering remained a weakness, partly because it was a “non-popular” assignment.

Across the country, there is one special branch man to cover 130sqkm and 40,000 people. “This is inadequate,” Sandhu said, asking for more manpower and incentives.

The home ministry has proposed that states be given funds to recruit people to their police’s special branches.