Template of torture in uniform hasn’t changed even though the world has; a new order is therefore necessary
If you were to think that there is a sudden spurt in cases of police brutality in Goa, you wouldn’t quite have a finger on the button. The propensity of a section of the police force to get away with the use of force which crosses the boundaries of humanity and civility cannot be underlined enough. The difference now is that social media and as a result of it, the mainstream and digital media report and disseminate incidents of brutality with instant videos.
From the early nineties onwards to now, the template of torture has not changed though the world has. It starts off with excesses which are uncontrolled and go out of hand. When this leads to grievous injury or death, then a hasty cover up is planned in which the forensics department becomes a party.
The list is long, sad and sometimes surreal. And a look back is important because police torture is not an exception, not a blip on a smooth surface, not a speck of dirt on a clean sheet. It is a constant and it is consistent
Let’s start with one of the most “high profile” ones in this decade, that of seafarer Cypriano Fernandes, beaten by policemen while in custody and next morning rushed to GMC when he failed to regain consciousness. He died in custody two days later on January 9, 2011. Three policemen, PI Sandesh Chodankar, sub inspector Radesh Ramnathkar and hawaldar Sandip Shirvaikar were suspended and murder charges were filed against all officers on duty at the Panjim Police Station on the night of January 7 to January 8, 2011.
The Sub Divisional Magistrate’s (SDM) report stated that he died due to surface injuries with a blunt force object on the skull, elbow, joint, right aspect of skull and left hand. These injuries were “fatal” and the cause of his death. SDM Shabaji Shetye said “In my opinion, Cipriano’s death occurred in custody which was revealed during my course of inquiry as per the deposition of forensic doctors who stated that injuries on Cipriano were inflicted while in police custody.”
2001 witnessed the sensational case of Dattu Dessai of Cuncolim
who was killed in custody and later hung from a tree behind the police station and declared as a suicide, a wild theory, which was caught out during investigations
The trend of people arrested hanging in or outside police stations or brought dead to hospitals after arrest, is almost a norm, from Dattu Dessai’s case in 2001 to Shivaji Gaikwad’s case in 2012. One Shivaji Gaikwad was arrested on October 6 2012 for petty theft. It was a Saturday and he died in police custody the next day, for unknown reasons. Gaikwad died before he was produced within 24 hours in front of a Judicial Magistrate First Class.
But custodial deaths stretch way back to the early nineties and there have been roughly 20 reported cases of custodial deaths since then, which clearly indicates the high number of all cases of violence- beatings, torture which do not ultimately lead to death.
On February 11, 1992, in Calangute, Vidhyadhar Tuenkar was found hanging in the police lock up. It was registered as – hold your breath- an unnatural death. It surely was “unnatural” that a prisoner in a lock up would suddenly hang to death.
On December 30, 1992, Mahendra Tari from Diwar died in the lock up.
On May 25, 1998, Prakash Kalyan Rao Kulkarni was found hanging in the lock up of the Verna police station
Only twice, in the Dattu Desai’s murder, and the Abdul Gaffar Khan custodial murder case did the cases lead to conviction of policemen. Retired police inspector S V Caeiro and police constable Savlo Naik, facing a ten year imprisonment in the Abdul Gaffar Khan case moved a mercy petition before the Goa Governor last December. The Supreme Court convicted both of them for culpable homicide not amounting to murder turning down their acquittal by the High Court. Abdul Gafar Khan was apprehended by the police from Khareband and taken to the Margao police station shortly before midnight
and then brought dead to the hospital at 2.40 am.
But barring these two cases, punishments have more or less been limited to suspensions of cops.
Suspensions are no longer deterrents to either reinstatement in service after a short while and then promotions. The business as usual attitude where loss of service is not a deterrent, makes the common man in Goa more vulnerable to getting hit by rogue policemen. An endemic change is needed and this cannot be achieved by resorting to suspensions and then waiting for the heat to die down. Unfortunately both social media and mainstream media move to other stories and there is no activism in Goa when it comes to fighting human rights violations of this kind.
Crucially, a custodial torture or a death case ultimately ends with the investigating agency invariably filing closure report. The case is therefore buried, officers are reinstated and there is no course correction to prevent a repeat. To even expect the government to work on a policy against police torture and deterrents, which are beyond what is already built into the IPC and especially the CrPC, which deals with the procedure in criminal cases, is becoming futile. This is because there is no intent on changing the endemic defects. We look at five main points why the saga of custodial deaths has not ceased in Goa:
- a)No sensitisation of the force at entry level on protocol to be followed as per rules of arrest
- b)Torture as a tool of investigation itself has been used in cases involving ordinary civilians. In Goa, majority of police torture has occurred because the local police have been personally outraged and has sought to mete out jungle justice, with no respect for the law.
- c)Inquiries have often been entrusted to sections of the police force whom have worked with or supervised those who they are investigating and are personally close to
- d)Inquiries conducted by authorities other than the police like SDM’s have never been acted upon i.e Shabaji Shetye’s report in the Cyprianio Fernandes custodial death case
- e)Most importantly, there has been an attempt at a constant cover up and deviation and this was evident even in the case of Clint Rebello. The five suspended policemen of the Cuncolim police station, including PSI Mahesh Velip , have literally lied -as was found out during the SDM’s inquiry- that Clint was not brought to the Assolna outpost. It is believed very strongly that it was here that the young man was mercilessly beaten by the police after an altercation regarding traffic congestion on the streets of Cuncolim.
As reported in The Goan Everyday newspaper, during inquiry a driver of a 108 ambulance stationed near the Assolna confirmed that the victim of police beating, Clint, was brought there. The inquiry officer even found the leather belt used to beat Clint . The young man had complained that he was hauled into the police jeep at Betul, taken to Assolna and thrashed by cops. To cover their deeds, the cops filed an FIR against Clint Rebello alleging that he had assaulted PSI Mahesh Velip, yet Velip was not subjected to any medical examination nor was there any visible evidence of any injury suffered by him
This pattern runs through in almost every case of assault which has led to deaths. A roadmap for dealing the police assault cases has to be prepared, where the human rights of the common man has to be the paramount priority. The excuse that inquiries by Human Rights watchdog groups demorlaise the police is nothing but an excuse to commit excesses
The way forward
- a)Suspended policemen should not be reinstated during the period of inquiry and if found guilty after the administrative inquiry, will continue to remain under suspension through the trial in court. The suspension should be converted to dismissal, if the trial court holds them guilty, with the provisio that if the conviction is overturned by any higher court, a re- appointment can be done with no break in service.
- b)A human rights sensitization workshop should be conducted before the induction of new recruits into the force, and a periodic refresher course should be conducted by the training department for existing police personnel
- c)A periodic review should be conducted in police stations to see if police men are maintaining measurable and laid down norms of conduct with the public including those arrested or detained when in conflict with law. Failure to meet standards should lead to promotions ad increments put on hold
- d)Zero tolerance to police torture can be attained only through when exemplary punishment , including arrest when murder charges are leveled, is levied
- e)At the same time there should be system of rewards and accolades for police men who show courage and display sensitivity in their day to day functioning. These people should be recognised as shining examples of what the force wants to achieve.
The bottomline here is that comments like we need better training and sensitivity are so obvious that they sound like cliches. If the Goa police and its government haven’t been able to get their act together in 25 years, it is clear that they do not really see police brutality as an issue that has to be dealt with, with even minimum priority.
Is the new CRZ notification an environment protection or an exploitation tool?
While an intense forest fire rages around the new coastal zone regulation cleared by the Union Cabinet, one needs to look deep into the fine print to understand that the tone of the new CRZ notification is to actually leave very gaping exit routes for any project which needs high FARs or build close to the coasts and backwaters. The new CRZ notification allows for exploiting the environment, rather than protecting it.
While conversations center around the reduction of the no development zone from 200 meters to 50 meters of the High Tide Line, ( in densely populated rural Areas with a population density of more than 2161 people per square kilometer as per 2011 census) it is the exemption given to strategic projects from any restrictions which is the elephant in the room. “Strategic projects” have been innocuously clubbed with defense projects without a detailed explanation on what “strategic” projects are. This leaves a large scope for subjective interpretation, which ultimately gives sweeping powers to the CRZ authority to hold back or clear projects.
The other issue of concern is whether the new notification will apply to projects with retrospective effect. Many of the congested coastal zones of Goa, like Calangute and Candolim are littered with irregular construction, many of them in the nature of violating the high tide line. The new notification could have the effect of regularizing large scale illegalities. If this is done, then this will lead to an entire illegal zone getting converted to a legal zone, forever burying Goa’s most iconic beaches under concrete.
So cutting through the clutter, the new Coastal Regulation Zone Notification has two specific apprehensions looming large. Firstly, even a construction and builder friendly notification could tip the scales completely away from environment protection if the no restrictions clause applicable is ‘strategic projects’ without the definition of “strategic” specified and followed.
Secondly, the new notification should come into effect only when the process of proceeding against all illegalities of the past has begun. The new notification should not become a giant exercise is regularizing illegalities because that would go against the very principle of Coastal Zone regulation. However it doesn’t appear that the protection of Goa’s coasts is very high on the priority of the designated protectors of this very fragile ecosystem.
One indication of this, especially applicable to Goa is the classification of densely populated rural areas, applicable to those areas whose population density is more than 2161 per square kilometer as per the 2011 census. There are two aspects to note here. Goa’s so called rural areas many of whom have come under an urban planning body like the Planning Development Authority would have had a population density of 2161 per square kilometer even in 2011. And in the unlikely event of some areas not having that kind of population density, in 2011, that figure would have surely been reached by 2018. This effectively means that the 50 meters high tide line rule instead of 200 meters would be applicable to almost the entire northern coast and many of the southern coastal areas of Goa.
If the current notification has to pass the test of credibility, then these questions need to be answered in the affirmative. Does the new notification help in taking action against past irregularities? While facilitating more construction ostensibly for more tourism, does it account for the fact that the coasts are already over congested and do not have the carrying capacity to ensure water, sewage and garbage treatment needed to support the new constructions.
Thirdly is the 20 meters buffer zone around islands and mangroves good enough to protect the fragile environment around these islands. Incidentally Goa has some of them around its backwaters like Divar, Chorao, St Estevam etc?
Do any of the above questions have yes, as the answer? If not, then this notification, especially from Goa’s point of view, as it affects the sate directly, has to be redrawn and re-presented. A refusal to do that is not in the interest of Goa.
Sujay’s Take 10: Do students of UGC administered exams need to take off items of attire linked to their faith?
Founding editor Sujay Gupta’s video editorial on a muslim student refused to take off her hijab before entering her examination hall in Goa on December 18. She had to skip her exam rather than take off an item of attire linked to her faith. Sujay’s take discusses the incident
Mr Parrikar doesn’t need to prove himself to anyone? Why is the BJP making him go to the bridge?
The BJP government isn’t quite on the brink in Goa. But there are gaps in the functioning of its administration. But was it really necessary for them to force the frail Chief Minister to “bridge” the gap buy inspecting the progress of construction of the new Mandovi and Zuari bridges, this week.
The BJP will be the first to respond to this by saying it is Mr Parrikar himself who wanted to hit the ground running to show that he is in an active state and back to work.
But both in terms of the reactions his photographs on the new Mandovi and Zuari bridges evoked and from trying understand what was the point the Chief Minister was trying to underscore, this merits a discussion not as much about his health than about the very surprising need of the party to showcase that its Chief Minister is fit to work. This begs the question. If the BJP is confident that a visibly frail and ailing Chief Minster is fit to carry out his duties as Chief Minister, then it should allow Mr Parrikar to go about his business quietly, as long as the results are there to see and no one has complaints that files aren’t moving or key decisions are not being taken. If there is slack in the bureaucracy, slack- which floats like dead weight- will rise. It is the BJP and Mr Parrikar who need to figure why is it so important for the party to tell the people of Goa that their tallest leader (and obviously in the shortlist of one of the most influential politicians Goa has ever produced), to respond and take the opposition criticism so seriously. To make a weak and frail Mr Parrikar with a tube from his nose going to his digestive tack and held by aides, to stand on Goa’s new bridges, needs serious compulsion. What was the compulsion here?
Why does he need to prove a point that he is working, even as he is “fighting for his life” (these are the words of South Goa MP Narendra Sawaikar).
Surely Manohar Parrikar doesn’t need certificates. Surely he doesn’t need to reach out to the people of Goa to tell them that he will work for Goa till he can stand and deliver. Mr Parrikar did not ever need to try as hard to prove himself as an efficient administrator. Why is he trying so hard now? And why is the BJP, against the advice of doctors, bent on a flurry of photo ops at the risk of strain, fatigue and god forbid, even worse happening to the Chief Minister?
This brings us to yet another baffling question, to which there are no answers. From his bed at a small private clinic in Candolim before he was moved to AIIMS Delhi, he spoke to his party president Amit Shah and clearly expressed his desire to step down. National observers were sent to decide on the next Chief Minister. And then a sad story unfolded. On a decision bordering on unfairness and perhaps cruelty, the party didn’t want the risk of instability and internal party chaos and decided to literally force Mr Parrikar to shoulder the burden of Chief Ministership at a time when he was, very tragically, finding it difficult to shoulder his own physical burden. The party needs to allow its leader the dignity of privacy and rest and not subject him to “laying foundation stones” and unveiling plaques at his private Dona Paula Residence, which serves as a home, a hospital and the Chief Minister’s office, all at one.
The quintessential question of whether he should step down as Chief Minister or not, has to be decided not by Mr Parrikar alone but by the party, which has to look at these two questions. Can he, and for how long, take the rigors of decision making since the job involves mental strain and quicksilver reflexes and secondly, are political compulsions coming in the way of making a change since any leadership change may involve instability and if they are worth so much to put a man in need of rest through the shocking rigors like his bridge visits
The right to privacy reason which the party has cited in response to Trajano De Mello’s petition asking for the CM’s health records can hold only if the nature of information sought to be guarded under the privacy clause has no impact on his public duty and functionality. If this is affirmed then governance will have to be conducted smoothly, even if it means super effective delegations of powers and liberal distribution of portfolios held by the CM. But the fact of the matter is that his health may be private, but full disclosure about a Chief Minister’s state of health has to be in public interest. And that too be certified health professionals not party leaders.
Moreover, the role of the Chief Minister cannot be cocooned or boxed into a frame of running day to day governance. That is something that the steel frame (supposed) of bureaucracy is trained to do. Mr Parrikar is needed to give vision, forward planning and direction on key aspects mining, tourism, infrastructure, investments and economy. This needs round the clock planning and execution because this will set the foundation for Goa’s recovery. The real challenge is for him to do that effectively with this health condition.
These are complex challenges and there are no easy answers. But the search for a roadmap to solve critical issues is what team Parrikar needs to do. Sending him to bridges with doctors and exposing his frailty to the world is being unfair to the man, his position and yes his dignity. This time and energy would have been better spent in restructuring government functioning, delegating the CM’s routine work which is massive and freeing him up for what he does best- plan and advise. Let’s get that from him either as CM if his health permits or otherwise as the senior most and the best advisor a new Chief Minister can ever get. That will be a true baptism for a future Chief Minister, not by fire, but with fire.
The legacy of Manohar Parrikar will be woven into the fabric of Goa. The BJP shouldn’t belittle it for short term political compulsions. Instead it should allow his leader to step back from the comparatively trivial and allow him to focus on something more telling. His guiding presence rather than his official position should be paramount.