New Delhi: Two senior and retired police officers who have been critical of the Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh in the past have told The Wire that news of the formation of a special security force by the government is not particularly worrying.
Vibhuti Narayan Rai, former Director General of Uttar Pradesh Police, said the Uttar Pradesh Special Security Force is nothing but a ‘watch and ward’ force. “You can call it a chowkidar force,” Rai told The Wire, adding that it is “much like the Central Industrial Security Force and Railway Protection Force.”
Rai said that the alarm about the force is the result of ‘misplaced excitement’ created by a section of the media. “This was also because the Adityanath government has an anti-people and anti-minority image,” he added.
S.R. Darapuri, former Inspector General of UP Police, echoed Rai’s comments about the force. “It is nothing but a government security agency, much like private security agencies, whose primary duty would be to look after, guard and protect government installations such as courts, metro, government offices, and so on.”
Darapuri also said that such a force had been proposed earlier as well and has nothing to do with routine police activities.
Both the former police officers maintained that the UPSSF is by no means going to replace the role of state police, which has powers of investigation and prosecution as per the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC). Both said that the power to search and arrest without a warrant is needed because without it, the UPSSF risks becoming little more than another private security agency.
“Even after a search and arrest, the UPSSF will have to hand over the person(s) to local police, after which normal procedure will follow,” said Darapuri.
Recalling his police service days he added, “This effort was discussed back when I was in the police, but it could not materialise due to one reason or the other.”
According to him, a force like this is needed because in the absence of it, normal police personnel have to be diverted for non-policing work like security of government installations.
On Sunday, in a series of tweets posted from the UP government’s official Twitter handle, Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Awanish Awasthi announced that eight battalions of the force will be constituted initially at a cost of Rs 1,747.06 crore and initially, personnel would be drawn from the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC).
One of the tweets also mentioned that the “UPSSF will be a dream project” for the chief minister.
Opposition parties such as Samajwadi Party (SP) and Congress have criticised the state government’s move. “This is not SSF but a betrayal,” said the party in a tweet, adding that “this is a conspiracy to oppress constitutional rights by using power.”
According to a report by Hindustan Times, the Congress party compared the UPSSF with the provisions in the Rowlatt Act of 1919 that gave British forces power to indefinitely detain and jail people without trial. Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee president Ajay Kumar Lallu called the formation of the forces “undemocratic” and said it could be used against citizens.
The additional chief secretary (home) later clarified that the work profile of the force will be similar to the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), which guards airports and vital installations across India. “We have not given the new force any extraordinary powers and most of the provisions are similar to the CISF Act,” he said.
Causes for concern
However, not everyone is satisfied with the clarification.
“The problem in Uttar Pradesh is not that court premises or industrial undertakings are insecure. The problem here is that common citizens have to face violence on a daily basis,” said advocate Sarim Naved, who is also vice chairman of the legal cell of Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee.
“This is not simply a state version of the CISF. This is a draconian new section of a police force whose conduct is already questionable, even under ordinary circumstances,” he insisted. “The force can be posted anywhere by the state government and can be used to criminalise anybody looking suspicious to its members,” he told The Wire.
Notably, in comparison with other similar forces (like the CISF) the UPSSF has a wider remit as it will provide security to not just a government body but also to “a person” and to “residential premises”.
Commenting on this, Naved said, “Let the state government limit the posting of this force to the high court and major government buildings if that is their intention.”
“Why have such an expansive definition that could include virtually any building – private or public, residential or commercial? If this force is to serve any purpose, let it be used as an exclusive witness protection force, to protect persons who have complained against the local police.”
Interestingly, the force was constituted in the backdrop of an order passed by the Allahabad high court last year. As per media reports, in December last year, the high court had rebuked the state government over its weak security arrangements in court premises. This happened a day after three men shot dead a murder-accused inside a court in the state’s Bijnor district.
Speaking to The Wire, Alok Prasanna Kumar, a senior resident fellow at Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy at Bengaluru, said, “The high court shouldn’t be passing orders like this on the judicial side that can result in the state incurring such vast expenses. The Uttar Pradesh government should be thinking about whether it can afford such large-scale recurring expenditures on maintaining physical infrastructure when the state fares so low on the Human Development Index.”
He also said that “grant of sanction to prosecute and protection of acts in good faith are second order issues when there should ideally be debate about whether Uttar Pradesh needs a force like this to protect installations especially when it has such a large number of vacancies in its regular police forces.”
Lack of specifications
Ankur Otto, a project officer in the Police Reforms Programme at the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) believes that “the UPSSF fails to specify on whom the police can exercise its power. Many of the provisions of this Act have already been laid down in the existing Penal Code. For instance, the power to arrest without a warrant.”
He further says, “If there is a need for a special security force in Uttar Pradesh, it will require renewed will to improve police functioning in the state, especially in light of the Uttar Pradesh Police’s track record of the absence of accountability in scores of encounter killings.”
Otto also pointed out that as per data on police organisation (2018), the UP Police currently has 29% vacancy. “Setting up another force shows the government’s misplaced priorities. It is not increasing the efficiency of the current police force,” he added.
When asked as to whether the involvement of PAC in the force can have an adverse effect, former DGP Vibhuti Narayan Rai said, “It is true that PAC have a communal and anti-minority history but I don’t think in this case they are going to have much effect on the force.”
Commenting on probable misuse of the UPSSF, Rai said, “The Yogi government does not need a new one for that. It already has a state police force with substantial powers, to be misused.”
It can be recalled that PAC, a special unit of the Uttar Pradesh police, has been involved in various anti-Muslim operations ever since its constitution. The most notable amongst them is the Hashimpura Massacre, in which 42 unarmed Muslim men were killed in cold blood by the PAC Force on May 22, 1987.
Rai, in his book Hashimpura 22 May, described it as one of India’s biggest custodial killings.
On March 21, 2015, all the accused (16 PAC personnel) were acquitted by a local court in Delhi due to lack of evidence. However, on October 31, 2018, while overturning the trial court’s verdict, the Delhi high court convicted all the 16 personnel and sentenced them to life imprisonment.
If the new force is much like the CISF, then the question remains: why not just take the services of the central force? Rai said, “CISF is a central force and the state cannot be sure whether it will get its services whenever needed. Moreover, the CISF is a very expensive force to maintain. So it is not feasible for a state like Uttar Pradesh to attempt to avail itself of CISF services all the time.”