The sort of barricading which is being done at the borders of Delhi is unprecedented. This country has faced much more violent agitations and riots since Independence. However, never before in history, police had sought to turn a city into a medieval fortress or walled city.
According to media reports, roads are being dug up with cranes, iron grills and spikes are being cemented to the ground, layers of barricades are being laid out – with concrete poured between two barriers – and concertina wire and boulders placed to create more obstacles.
This is unprofessional at best and ridiculous at worst. In handling a law and order situation, barricading is required to channelise a mob in certain direction(s), to prevent the mob from crashing in some place, and to protect the police personnel from coming into physical contact with the mob at the very outset.
Barricading is supposed to be a strictly temporary measure.
Except for the purposes mentioned above, the police cannot encroach upon the rights of common citizens to permanently block a road for traffic or dig it up, thereby damaging public property or incurring expenditure even if they restore it afterwards. Which law permits them to do so?
We are given to understand that a four-foot high and three-foot wide concrete wall has come up at the Singhu border.
Fortifications mean a complete disconnect with the people
This is not barricading; this is fortification. Fortifications are used only in insurgency-affected areas to protect the sentries at the camps of the security forces from firing by the insurgents. We do not have any insurgency in Delhi.
Fortifications do not have any place in a democracy. They are relics of a feudal age when the tyrannical and exploitative feudal lords, always apprehensive of an outburst of anger from a distraught people, kept themselves behind layers of physical barriers in their castles.
If police erect fortifications of this type to deal with protests, it would mean that the ruling dispensation is either afraid of the people or regards them as enemies.
They cannot take the plea of a vague thing called ‘intelligence input’. If they do have information that the agitators intend to indulge in violence, they must take action at the source itself. For example, prohibitory orders may be issued under Section 144 CrPC. Then, there does not seem to be any attempt at dialogue. Why cannot dialogue be initiated to explain it to the agitators that in view of the incidents on January 26, they must desist from any procession and if at all it has to be there in exercise of their democratic right to protest, it must be in accordance with the guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court?
What was wrong with the permission given to the tractor parade?
In fact, from a professional perspective, the very permission given for the tractor parade was ridiculously wrong. For that matter, no vehicles should have been allowed. If it is argued that the tractor is a symbol of the farmers, would they allow a parade by 12-wheel dump trucks if there is an agitation in the mining sector or a parade by JCBs/cranes if there is an agitation in the construction sector? This terrible folly must be a lesson for all police forces in the country.
It is difficult to believe that the police could be so naïve as to permit a rally by thousands of tractors and not expect any trouble by lumpen elements amongst them.
Irregular and illegal weapons cannot be used by the police
We also saw photographs of some policemen holding what appeared to be metal pipes replete with metallic forearm guards in a two-hand grip with basket hilt. The metal pipe is obviously supposed to be swung as a lathi.
The simple issue is that senior officers are not allowed to ‘invent’ weaponry for the police nor are they empowered to permit their use.
Any implement used by the police has to be approved by the MHA on the recommendations of the Bureau of Police Research & Development (BPR&D) after a study. Since no such approval exists for these metal pipes, it means they are irregular and illegal.
Central Armed Police Forces and many state police forces have been using polycarbonate pipes for lathis because they are more humane than bamboo lathis. A bamboo lathi, being a rigid object, transfers most of its energy into the body upon impact and thus can break bones or fracture skulls. A polycarbonate pipe, on the other hand, being flexible, absorbs a considerable part of the energy of impact and thus causes only superficial injury.
How could police then use these metal pipes, which would be potentially lethal?
Electronic Disabling Devices or electroshock weapons (popularly known as Tasers) have not been introduced in Indian police because Rule 89(3)(a) of the Arms Rules 2016 stipulates that they can be imported only if medical research reports on as many as eight points are produced, which prove that the technology used is neither lethal nor would cause permanent damage. The Gujarat Police is reported to have bought some Tasers and, in the absence of such medical studies, their introduction is illegal.
It has been argued that protesters had swords. The answer does not lie in responding with equally barbarous weapons themselves. The answer lies in invoking the law.
It has been very clearly laid down by the Supreme Court in 2004 in the case of The Commissioner of Police & Ors. vs Acharya Jagdishwarananda Avadhuta & Anr that “the participants to the procession shall not carry wooden bars, weapons, metal rods, weapons capable of inducing violence”.
How do they envisage things to play out?
This article is not a commentary on the farm laws or the agitation per se. However, one must wonder, what do the police expect from these fortifications? Do they intend to stand there and laugh as the tyres of the tractors are deflated on the spikes? Do they want ‘human waves’ to crash upon the rows upon rows of barricades and waste themselves?
Since, as discussed above, there are other ways of dealing with protests, such fortifications are liable to be viewed as a devious plot to demonise the farmers and paint them as people who are hell-bent upon disturbing the peace and tranquillity of the capital, and thus provide an excuse to use force upon them.
The excessive zeal or bhakti of officers must not be allowed to get the better of a professional approach. This is so childish and certainly not the way a 73-year-old democracy must behave with its people.
N.C. Asthana, a retired IPS officer, has been DGP Kerala and a long-time ADG CRPF and BSF. Views are personal. He tweets @NcAsthana.