The Times of India
September 16, 2009
‘The crux is politicisation of the police’
Former Punjab DGP
JulioRibeiro has often spoken out against fake encounters, but
acknowledges that they took place when he was Mumbai police
commissioner in the early 1980s. He talks to Jyoti Punwani about
Are you shocked
at the revelations about the Ishrat Jahan encounter?
No. This has become more or less commonplace. But we need to
put an end to the practice because you are making policemen into
criminals in uniform, which is much worse than criminals not in
uniform. In Mumbai, when encounters had almost stopped (when Meera
Borwankar was head of the crime branch), complaints about police
extortion also came down. I have a strong suspicion that ‘encounter
specialists’ – a misnomer, because encounters are supposed to take
place by chance – were also specialising in extortion, using their
links with the underworld.
It used to be
petty criminals and suspected Naxalites, now it’s innocents. What
makes the police so brazen?
Innocents may be rare. But it depends on the place. In
Punjab, i learnt that right from the British days, the police had
been settling their personal land disputes by eliminating innocents.
In Mumbai, some policemen reportedly take a contract from one gang
to exterminate its rivals. Such policemen should be charged with
murder. Once they get away with one, and then get a shabash,
policemen lose their fear. The crux is politicisation of the police.
Why do these encounters happen in Gujarat the most? They have the
backing of the political establishment there. Even in Mumbai, when (Gopinath)
Munde was home minister, he declared in the assembly, “I’ve ordered
the police to shoot these fellows.” How can a home minister say that
in the assembly and get away with it? Partly because the middle
class, which feels vulnerable because of the breakdown of the
judicial process, supports encounters. Encounter specialists are
heroes for the press; films are made on them.
rights groups question these encounters. Is there any internal
mechanism for stopping them?
Human rights groups are important. I used to tell my men in
Punjab – if it were not for them, you’d go totally berserk.
Sometimes human rights groups make false allegations, but without
them, there’s a very real danger of the state going overboard.
Within the police, there are conscientious officers who would check
fake encounters. But in a place like Gujarat, they’d be immediately
shunted out. If the power of transfers was not in political hands,
officers would be able to put their foot down. That’s why i feel the
police must be freed from political control.
After the first encounter during my tenure, i got calls
complimenting me. But i told the policemen involved, “1 don’t expect
you to kill.” They were stunned. It certainly wasn’t a policy in my
time, nor did it happen with my connivance. But whether i gave tacit
approval by not actively opposing it – i don’t know. I won’t say i