More constables lose lives on duty

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Sixty-five per cent of police personnel “killed on duty” across the country in the past one year were from the lowest rung – Constables.

Among the states Uttar Pradesh and among the forces, the Border Security Force (BSF) lost the maximum number of personnel, including three Superintendents of Police, during operations, accounting for 47 per cent of such deaths.

A total of 576 personnel were “killed on duty” between September 1, 2012 and August 30 this year, according to a note sent by Intelligence Bureau to state police forces, paramilitary forces, and R&AW earlier this month.

Since 1961, around 32,000 police personnel have sacrificed their lives for security of the nation and service to society.

All these personnel will be honoured on the occasion of Police Commemoration Day on October 21. Commemoration Day is observed every year in memory of CRPF personnel, who were ambushed and killed by Chinese forces in Ladakh region on this day in 1959.

This year’s toll shows a slight increase from 566 recorded between September 2011 and August 2012. The number of personnel killed during 2010-11 was 634 while it was 797 in 2009-10 and 841 in September 2008-August 2009 period.

An analysis of the list of police personnel killed on duty shows that the majority of them were Constables numbering 377, followed by Head Constables at 81.

The highest number of Sub Inspectors losing life during operations was in Uttar Pradesh, where 16 were killed. A total of 48 SIs lost were killed between September last year and August this year.

Uttar Pradesh had a total of 133 casualties, followed by BSF 85 in 2011-12 but this year, both the forces have reduced their casualty though they topped the list.

In Maoist-infested Chhattisgarh, 37 policemen were killed while in Jharkhand, it was 40 and West Bengal 52. CRPF, which is in the forefront of anti-naxal operations, lost 45 personnel this year as against 57 in the previous year.

Karnataka has shown a three-time jump in the number of personnel who lost lives in the line of duty from five during 2011-12 to 17 in 2012-13. The national capital of Delhi had 17 deaths in 2012-13 as against 19 during the previous year.

The list of 576 dead personnel includes the Uttar Pradesh DySP Zia-ul-Haq, whose murder evoked nationwide rage after the name of UP muscleman-politician Raja Bhaiya’s name cropped up in the case. However, CBI cleared his name after Haq’s wife named the UP minister, who had to resign but was reinstated recently.

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State/ No of Police Personnel Killed*

# UP 117
# BSF 55
# West Bengal 52
# CRPF 45
# Jharkhand 40
# Chhattisgarh 37
# Bihar 29

Policemen killed cadrewise

# Constables 377
# Head Constables 81
# Assistant Sub Inspectors 33
# Sub Inspectors 48
# Inspectors 10

* Between Sept 1, 2012 and Aug 30, 2013

(News report appeared in Deccan Herald on October 20, 2013)

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What one learns from Stampedes?

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One more tragedy has struck people, which shows that the governments do not learn from past experiences. And this time too, a pilgrim centre has become deathbed for scores of devotees. Tragedy revisited the Ratangarh temple in Datia of Madhya Pradesh after a gap of seven years when around 115 were killed on October 13 following a stampede triggered by rumours.

This is not the first time that a pilgrim centre has become a tragic spot. The 1954 Kumbh mela saw 300 to 800 (the accounts vary, Guardian says 800, Times say 350) people killed in a stampede. A Wikipedia entry, quoting several books and newspaper reports, suggest that the Kumbh Mela has traditionally been used by politicians to connect with mass gather of Indian populace prior to the India’s Independence, and as this was the first Kumbh Mela after the Independence, many leading politicians had visited the city during the event, which goes for over 40 days. After the event, Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru suggested that politicians and VIPs may not visit the Mela,who were all but exonerate along with the government after the inquiry of any wrongdoing.

At Ratangarh, the reasons were different but till now there is no concrete evidence to suggest the correct reason. It ranges from rumours about collapse about the bridge to a lathicharge by police. It is also speculated that the police resorted to lathicharge to make way for a BJP leader headed to the temple. Whatever the reasons may be, the tragedy shows that the state governments have not learned any lessons.

It is not that the governments cannot prevent such incidents. The Muzaffarnagar riots and the Odisha cyclone show that if there is a will, a government can do anything. In Muzaffarnagar, the UP government faltered and there was a communal riot which claimed over 50 lives and at least three women gangraped. In Odhisha, the cyclone Phailin did strike, but timely action could prevent many loss of lives.

Close to 1,400 people have been killed in stampedes across the country in the past around six years, but state governments appear to be in inertia when it comes to taking preventive steps. No pro-active steps are taken on the Centre’s guidelines to prevent such incidents.

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The tragedy at Ratangarh temple in Madhya Pradesh’s Datia district during ‘Navratri’ festivities saw at least 115 people losing their lives on Sunday. Before this, a similar stampede in Pullumedu in Kerala’s Idukki on January 4, 2011 had claimed the lives of 102 pilgrims who were on way to Sabarimala.

The Ratangarh tragedy is one of the biggest stampedes in the past six years. The same temple had witnessed a similar tragedy in 2006 in which 56 were killed but it appears that the state government did not learn the lessons. Last year too, Ratnam district in Madhya Pradesh witnessed a stampede in Hussain Tekri Shariff where 12 people were killed and four injured.

According to government figures, a total of 1,368 were killed, including those in the Ratangarh incident, and over 320 injured in 19 stampedes since January 2008. Earlier in February this year, 37 people were killed and 43 injured in a stampede at Allahabad railway station during Kumbh Mela.

In October 2008 after a stampede in Chamandevi temple in Jodhpur that killed 147 people, the Union Home Ministry had issued detailed guidelines for the state governments on preventing stampedes, which included measures to efficiently manage such gatherings for safety and security of people.

The advisory, which is periodically issued after updating it, emphasises the need for managing big gatherings.

It has suggested measures like allowing manageable number of persons to visit temples or shrines at a particular time, proper access control procedure at every entry and exit point, establishing sound alert system and regular training of staff in evaluation procedures. Most of the stampedes have taken place in a religious place during a festival.

The arrangements for this kind of events are made by the district administration and states. Authorities at districts and states should take all precautions to avoid any untoward incident. On the basis of inputs received from security and intelligence agencies, the Centre does issue specific advisories from time to time.

However, it appeared that none of the steps were taken at Ratangarh temple by the district authorities. We have to wait for a detailed inquiry report.

Initial reports suggested that there were just a handful of policemen to handle a crowd of about one lakh. It is to be seen what triggered the stampede as reports oscillate from a rumour about possible collapse of a bridge the pilgrims were crossing to a lathi charge by police, who were also accused of allowing vehicles on bridge after taking bribes.

The state governments are not taking steps in advance to prevent despite knowing about the possibility of gathering of a large number of people.

The politics in in full play. Allegations are thick and flying in Madhya Pradesh which is going to polls in late November. There are demands for resignation of Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. A judicial inquiry ordered by Chouhan may be a ‘vazhipadu’ and nobody will be held responsible.

Let us see what will our state governments learn from this stampede.

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STAMPEDES IN INDIA
LOCATION / Date / Killed / Injured
Naina Devi temple, Himachal Pradesh # 3.08. 2008 # 138 # 47
Chamunda Devi Temple, Jodhpur, Rajasthan # 30.09.2008 # 147 # 50
Ram Janki Temple, Managarh, UP # 04.03.2010 # 63 # 28
Pullumedu, Kerala # 14.01.2011 # 102 # 44
Adalatganj Ghat, Bihar # 19.11.2012 # 17 # 30
Allahabad Railway Station, UP # 10.2.2013 # 37 # 43
Ratangarh, MP # 13.10.2013 # 115 # 100+

(A newsy version appeared in Deccan Herald on October 14, 2013)

Ganjam: The Granary of World which could have turned a graveyard

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Odisha’s Ganjam, which bore most of the brunt of ‘Phailin’, may mean the granary of world but its tryst with destruction is not a new thing and experts put it among 15 districts in the country, which are “very highly” prone to cyclones. This time, the deadly cyclone had its landfall in Gopalpur, an ancient commercial port and now a prominent tourist destination, in the district on Saturday evening.

People and administration are now staring at a repeat of the 1999 Super Cyclone when the district lost 183 lives and incurred a loss of at least Rs 1,731.69 crore as experts. However, administration had taken steps and a huge bulk of the evacuation of a total of 4.5 lakh people from the coastal belt so far are from Ganjam. In addition, 40 per cent of the resources involved in relief and rescue operations are deployed in this district.

NDMA Vice Chairperson M Shashidhar Reddy had said Ganjam district will be most affected and authorities have deployed its strength in abundance in this district.

Derived its name from Gan-ia-aam, Ganjam is home to several VVIPs and top-notch politicians of the country, including former Vice President late V V Giri, former Chief Minister late Biju Patnaik and the current Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.

In a study aimed at upgrading the hazard profile of Indian landmass with reference to cyclone, experts G S Mandal of National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and M Mohapatra of Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) had placed this district in the most vulnerable district along with Balasore, Kendrapara, Bhadrak and Jagatsinghpur in Odisha.

The other districts which are in the most vulnerable are: Nellore, East Godavari, Srikakulam, Guntur (all in Andhra Pradesh), South 24-Pargana, Medinipur, South 24-Pargana, Howrah, Kolkata (all in West Bengal) and Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu. The study has said that in general, the coastal districts of West Bengal, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu are more prone and are in the high to very high category.

Thirty-three districts in Andhra, Daman and Diu, Gujarat, Odisha, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal have been clubbed in the category of “highly” prone while another 36 districts are categorised as moderately prone to cyclones. Eight districts are in “low” category.

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During the 1999 Super cyclone, 31.40 lakh people in the district were among the affected. Odisha government officials said 78,000 houses fully collapsed while another 2.44 lakh partially collapsed during the 1999 tragedy, incurring a loss of Rs 309.50 crore. The loss of livelihood system was pegged at Rs 355.60 crore while another Rs 1,066.59 crore worth damages were done to infrastructure.

Besides losing 183 lives, the district also saw 402 people suffering serious injuries. Around three lakh farmers were affected while 2,869 cattles, 7,647 goats and sheep and 6.79 lakh birds died during the Super cyclone.

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Now with the cyclone fizzling out, its time to focus on assessing damages and rehabilitation of those who lost their livelihood. One has to wait and see whether the administration forgot about the massive rehabilitation exercise. Given the experience of pre-cyclone work, it is hoped that the pre-cyclone arrangements will follow post cyclone activities too.

(A newsy version appeared in Deccan Herald on October 12, 2013)

A country in a hurry to hang people

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What says the law? You will not kill. How does it say it? By killing! (Victor Hugo)

A murderous rage swept through Delhi December 2013 as young men and women braved batons and water cannons with a chant “kill them” right at the footsteps of Raisina Hills, the seat of Indian power. Every lips read, “death, death, death to rapists”.

Nine months down the line when a judge thundered “hang them till death”, young women in a Delhi newsroom erupted into a thunderous applause. ‘Eye for an eye’ has settled their quest for revenge against four of the six men who brutally raped and murdered a young girl on a moving bus.

The court complex in south Delhi’s Saket where the sentence was pronounced was no different. Youths chased defence lawyers while another group with hooded heads and noose around neck demanding death for the rapists happily posed for photographs.

A fortnight before the sentencing of the four youth – a fifth one committed suicide in jail during trial – the countrymen had exhausted themselves arguing against a three-year sentence to a teenager under Juveniles Justice Act as he was a minor at the time of committing crime. People wanted to see him hung.

The ghastly crime made people come out from the cosiness of their homes to the December chill never before. There were demands for public hanging, shooting them dead in public, castration and you name it, any inhuman punishment. Media too fuelled it by thrusting a microphone to anyone who came their way.

Everyone played to the gallery – from politicians to activists to experts. National-level leaders like Sushma Swaraj were shouting for executing the rapists. In one of her outbursts in Parliament, she even said she would move a private members bill demanding death for the rapist minor, who turned an adult during trial.

Be it in TV studios or streets or colleges or offices, December chatter was all about death to rapists. As it marched towards a new year and new hope, India became a country in a hurry to hang people.

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To take a life when a life has been lost is revenge, not justice (Desmond Tutu)

But then hysteria and mobocracy overtook reasoning and everybody out on the street — be it a rickshaw puller, student, or professional — wanted instant death for rapists.

During the protests, revenge and not punishment was the underlying current. Public was in no mood to discuss the role of socio-economic situation that leads to crimes. Crowds thronged the streets and no amount of teargas shells, water cannons or baton charges could deter them. Not to speak of the day, they occupied the streets even in dark hours and the government was on its knees.

Public pressure set the ball rolling for changes in the system. A fast track court was set up. A Commission was formed under former Chief Justice J S Verma to recommend far-reaching measures to fight violence against women. Many came up with numerous suggestions and in sync with the public mood, most of them favoured measures ranging from death penalty to castration

Everybody was revolted by the brutality of the crime against the girl, who dreamt of making it big one day, and no doubt, wanted stringent punishment. But is death penalty the solution?

One of the prominent organisers of the Delhi protests was Kavita Krishnan of CPI(ML), who has taken a position against death penalty. After the verdict too, she says death penalty is not the panacea for tackling rapists or crime against women.

Nevertheless, the protesters from various backgrounds did not have any qualms in propagating the ‘tit-for-tat’ theory. Arguments against death penalty were met with a heavy dose of emotional outburst like what if it happens to one in your family and like that. Those who opposed death penalty were verbally butchered and asked to shun their “Leftism” at least in this case.

The panel headed by Justice Verma, a conscientious jurist but never part of the candlelight vigil crowd, refused to go with the popular narrative and said there is “considerable” evidence that the deterrent effect of death penalty on serious crimes is “actually a myth”. The panel recommended enhancement of punishment to put the rapist behind the bars for his entire life.

One of the defence lawyers was of the view that he was fine with death for his clients if there is no rape in the city in the next few months. This may be pushing the argument a bit far. One should not forget that Delhi recorded around 800 rape cases since the December 16 incident despite the unprecedented outcry. Death penalty has not instilled the fear in people and worldwide experience shows that. Why not India think about a stronger deterrent like imprisoning one for his entire life to tackle grievous crimes?

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POSTSCRIPT: India houses 414 death row convicts in its jails across, which includes 97 who were sentenced to the gallows last year alone and most of them from the poor strata of the society. Mumbai attacker Ajmal Kasab was the lone person who was executed last year. French philosopher Albert Camus has once said, capital punishment is the most premeditated of murders.

(This article appeared in Deccan Herald’s Spotlight section on September 22, 2013)

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