A circular issued by Mumbai Police chief Satyapal Singh last week seeking a blanket ban on those booked for assaulting policemen on duty is another instance of the ham-handed approach displayed by the police in recent times. Lawyers have already termed the punitive measures “completely illegal”.
However, that’s just one aspect of it. The other is how the police would go about enforcing the circular regarding those who assault policemen. Among other measures, the order wants photographs, fingerprints and copies of the offender’s PAN card, passport, Aadhaar card, gun licence, driving licence and records of business or employment, a summary of the crime included with these documents, and sent to respective departments for cancellation of licences or passport applications and blacklisting on employment exchanges. The police also plan to send an adverse report to the employers of such offenders.
While the measures may intend to awe as well as to boost the morale of policemen who have been at the brunt of several attacks — serving and retired officers have welcomed the move — the fact is that there are settled procedures laid down by law with regard to the above measures that fall way out of police purview. For instance, an attack on a policeman would clearly lie outside the ambit of the Motor Vehicles Act that governs cancellation of a driving licence. Similarly, impounding a passport may not be as easy as it sounds. Many of the other penalties prescribed can only be enforced by amending laws or enacting new ones.
Most importantly, what about police misusing the sweeping powers against innocents — a prospect well within the realm of possibility? A former public prosecutor has already sent a letter to the police commissioner warning against such a “police raj”.
Police Commissioner Singh would better serve the cause of his men instead by ensuring that strong evidence is gathered to secure convictions against those assaulting policemen under a law that already exists — the non-bailable IPC Section 353 pertaining to assault or use of criminal force to deter a public servant from discharge of his duty.
Sagnik is an assistant editor based in Mumbai