While CP withdraws police protection during demolition drives, BMC threatens to jail officials who fail to act within 24 hours
Mumbai Police Commissioner Arup Patnaik’s ‘Tughalaki’ circular has startled Municipal Commissioner Sitaram Kunte and his 24 Assistant Commissioners. Patnaik has instructed all city police stations to ‘not to provide police protection’ to demolition drives carried out by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). At least 1,000 illegal structures have popped up in the city in the last two months and this diktat has effectively put on hold demolition drives against them.
Conversely, a newly amended civic law states that if the civic body fails to take action against illegal structure within 24 hours of its construction, the concerned officer will be held responsible and will be punishable with imprisonment up to three months.
Several Ward Officers have complained that local police stations are not taking or accepting their request for police protection. More than 100 applications have been submitted by 24 ward offices, but the control room claims to have no account of these. One police official revealed that senior officials have been ‘informally’ instructed not to accept any protection requests from the BMC.
One Ward Officer, who wished to remain anonymous, said, “This is a ‘Tughalaki’ circular, good in spirit, poor in practise. It provides protection to illegal constructions in the city by not providing protection to the demolition drive. It had put us (Ward Officers, Assistant Commissioners) in a quandary.”
The Malad-Malvani area has the highest number of illegal constructions and the local ward office sent at least 20 requests to local police station to provide protection during demolition drives in the area. However, these requests were not being forwarded to senior officers.
On May 31, with the request of BMC officials, the police provided protection to a demolition drive at Koliwada in Sion. A senior police official diverted some of his staff for the drive without permission from higher authorities. During the demolition more than a dozen female police personnel, including one officer, were injured. After the incident, police officials alleged, “Some BMC official had carried out demolition to look after the vested interest of a private builder.”
Taking note of this incident, Police Commissioner Arup Patnaik issued a circular regarding police protection for demolition drive by the BMC, where rules pertaining to police protection for demolition drives were changed. Earlier, the decision to give police protection for demolition activity was taken at police station level by Senior Police Inspector or Assistant Commissioner of Police.
Henceforth, this application will be forwarded from the local police station to the local Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), then to DCP (Operations), and then finally to Joint Commissioner of Police (Law and Order) who will take the decision on whether protection for a particular demolition drive should be provided or not.
In the past, police protection was given on short notice. However, now the civic body will have to intimate the station at least 72 hours in advance.
Municipal Commissioner Sitaram Kunte appreciated some conditions mentioned in the circular. “The new circular will bring transparency and accountability to the demolition process. However, Mumbai Police have added many restrictions in the process to secure police protection,” said Kunte, “On an average 5-6 minor or major demolitions are carried out every day in various parts of city. Each application will go to Joint CP for demolition. The process has slowed down the speed of demolition of illegal constructions in the city.”
Arup Patnaik, while clarifying his stance on the circular, said, “I have my own priorities and responsibilities. Independence Day is approaching, and the Prime Minister’s trip to city is scheduled, Ramzan is going on, while Gopal Kala and Ganpati festival are also approaching. Amidst this we don’t want anything to go wrong.”
“We have asked the civic body to give us 72 hours intimation before any demolition drive. So we can make logistical arrangement and keep a stand by force ready, in case something goes wrong,” added Patnaik.
When asked what he thought of the civic laws under which the Ward Officer who fails to demolish an illegal construction within 24 hours will be awarded a three month jail sentence, Patnaik replied, “I am not under the BMC. It is not my problem. It is an administrative issue. My responsibility is towards law and order in the city and I will not compromise with that.”