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Knock, knock, the minister sent us

Arvind Kejriwal, (below) Somnath Bharti

New Delhi, Jan. 16: The spectre of ministers ordering police into private houses on suspicion of illicit activities hung over the me-too political landscape today.

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal not only backed such a vigilante role by elected representatives but also warned the police of interference by “the entire” state if they did not act.

Kejriwal accused Delhi police of being “a highly compromised force” after his cabinet colleagues — law minister Somnath Bharti and women and child minister Rakhi Birla — had separate altercations with police officers.

The more audacious — and easy to be aped by others elsewhere — intervention appeared to be that of law minister Bharti.

On Wednesday night around 10.30pm, Bharti, along with some residents of Malviya Nagar in south Delhi, detained two Nigerian women and claimed that they were sex workers peddling drugs.

The minister, who reached the spot with some reporters, called a police van and informed the local police station. When police officers turned up, the minister asked them to raid the house where the women were said to have been staying.

The police officers refused to follow the minister’s orders, saying they did not have a search warrant. Bharti insisted that in emergency situations, a warrant was not required.

“We told the SHO (station house officer) and the policemen to arrest them but they did not pay any heed to us. They told us that they cannot raid. Then I sought the reason. We called the DCP (deputy commissioner) but he did not answer our call. We have also called the CP (commissioner of police) but he said something else,” Bharti claimed.

On Bharti’s insistence, the two women were taken to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). No traces of drugs were found on them.

Today, the law minister said the police had tampered with evidence. He said only a physical check, not medical test, was done at AIIMS. “Had they been tested for drugs, I am sure that they would have been found positive. But police refused to cooperate,” he said.

Senior police officers said warrants were not required in case of emergency situations such as a terror alert.

“But entering private homes without warrants is extremely risky. If we have definite information based on our own investigation, we can do so and try to justify ourselves by furnishing the drugs seized from there. But what if the crowd was wrong? Can police work be substituted with public opinion?” an officer asked.

He said although citizens can detain suspects to ensure public safety and uphold the law, the best option was to alert the police and let them investigate. “You cannot demand and enforce on-the-spot action,” the officer added.

Another officer said: “CrPC provisions prevent the police from taking action against women after sunset.”

Under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, warrants are usually required. Raids without warrants can be carried out to prevent possible loss of evidence but the reasons why a warrant cannot be obtained will have to be recorded.

Before the raid, the investigating officer, police witnesses and informers must offer themselves to be searched first — a safeguard meant to ensure that drugs are not planted.

Medical test is also a sensitive issue. “The police cannot force a person to undergo a blood test and the only search permitted is body search for possession,” said M.S. Khan, a trial court lawyer in Delhi.

In response to a question, chief minister Kejriwal said: “The ministers are only telling the police to take action but Delhi police are calling it interference in their work. If this is interference, entire Delhi will interfere in their work.”

The warning adds a dangerous dimension in a country where elected representatives are known to storm police stations to free supporters.

The chief minister said rape cases were on the rise in the capital because Delhi police did “not arrest drug and sex offenders. This is where tendencies of rape begin.” A Dane was allegedly gang-raped by suspected vagrants in Delhi on Tuesday.

Kejriwal cited the second altercation involving Birla, the women and child minister, and a west Delhi station house officer over refusal to register a complaint of an alleged dowry victim.

According to Kejriwal, Birla had met the victim at Safdarjung Hospital, where she was admitted with 45 per cent burn injuries. The victim reportedly told Birla that the injuries were inflicted by her in-laws for not giving dowry.

The officer allegedly told Birla that a complaint would be registered when he had the time to do so.

Citing the two instances, Kejriwal said: “If accountability of Delhi police is not fixed, then crime and rape incidents will not go down.”

Delhi police are under the Union home ministry, not the state government.