For a long time, the police booth near the slaughterhouse in Pulianthope had been abandoned. And as irony would have it, this neglect led to its deterioration into a den of miscreants and antisocial elements. That was till a few months ago. Now, the same building looks busy with CCTV cameras installed and police personnel frequenting there, thanks to the efforts of a social worker. It, however, is just one. There are about 500 police booths across the city, most of which remain non-functional – if not abandoned.
Jafferkhanpet is one of the most congested localities in the city, with a majority of residents belonging to low-income groups. The narrow road passing through Jafferkhanpet and Choolaipallam from Jawaharlal Nehru Salai to Valasaravakkam is dotted with a number of Tasmac shops, which chokes with cars and mini buses during peak hours. Even amid this chaos, however, the police booth at Choolaipallam is rarely used, as is evident from the cobwebs over it.
Though the police claim that they are using the booths, residents say otherwise. “The police booth near Pulianthope slaughterhouse resumed functioning after I fought for it. But the ones at Elephant Gate and Periamet remain shut even after I informed the respective police stations about it,” said Afroze Ahmed, an activist. “Inspectors cite lack of manpower as a reason for not being able to post personnel at booths, but they can at least keep the lights on at the booths. That itself will act as a deterrent for miscreants,” said Ahmed.
The idea behind setting up such booths was to make the police omnipresent so that citizens in need could approach them without any delay. Although emergencies can be reported over calls to police control room, keeping the police on the move within the jurisdiction by way of police booths serve a different purpose, agreed an inspector. The jurisdiction of a police station is divided into sectors based on population of the locality. Each sector is supposed to have a booth – stations with bigger limits would have many sectors and as many booths. For each sector, there would be an officer who is supposed to go for rounds in the sector. They should also be available at the booth to receive grievances so that minor issues could be sorted out at the booth itself.
“When the ‘Police at your door step’ campaign was launched a few years ago, a sub-inspector was posted and police personnel were made to spend their duty time at booths. It was maintained like a regular police station with a general diary, which is used to record any major event, be it murder, theft, robbery or accidents,” said an inspector, requesting anonymity. “But now, it has become outdated and many booths have been abandoned citing lack of personnel. If a senior officer takes cognisance of this matter and revives the booth system, it would make policing better,” he added.
Elaborating his point, the inspector noted how Semmencherry used to be one of the best examples of the effectiveness of these booths. “Only major issues would come to the inspector; the rest would be addressed by the sub-inspectors themselves,” he said.
SSIs are a wasted resource?
Not only the booths, but manpower is also not being used effectively, which in turn has affected the functioning of these booths, said sources in the force. An officer DT Next spoke to said that special sub-inspectors are currently a wasted resource in the department, who should instead be given better responsibilities. At the station level, senior head constables are the most resourceful persons, as they are the ones who mingle with people. Sometimes, they can even guide a new inspector to deal with a particular law and order problem in the jurisdiction, explained the officer. “By promoting senior head constables as special inspectors, they are stripped off their existing role and but not given the responsibilities of a sub-inspector either. Instead of blaming lack of manpower, SSIs could be appointed to manage booths and revive the system. Making inspectors cover all kind of protests and attend minor issues make policing flawed,” the officer said.
‘No novel idea will work sans sufficient strength’
Retired police official V Sithannan, also the author of Police Investigation: Powers, Tactics and Techniques, said most of the police initiatives were knee-jerk reactions to sudden developments, and added that even a novel idea would not work without addressing the more crucial problem — manpower.
“When Tamil Nadu’s population was 3.5 crore, the required police strength was 1.27 lakh. Even then, there was lack of 20,000 personnel. Now, the population 7.5 crore but the corresponding police strength has not been increased. In an A grade police station, even if there are 60 police personnel, actual number of police personnel available at a given time is only seven or eight. About 10 police personnel will be on other duties, while 10 will be on station duty. The remaining 45 will be divided into 15 for each of the three shifts. Among them, seven or eight will be sent to VIP bundobust or to cover protests. So, the essential part is to increase the strength, for which the State government should take steps,” said Sithannan, who once headed the Tamil Nadu Police Academy.
Pointing out how the state witnessed 23,000 protests in the past one year, the highest number in the country during the same period, Sithannan said the Police and Home department concentrated on things that matter and leave everything else behind, which should not be the case. “About 60 per cent of time is spent on non-policing work like VIP bundobust and other such duties, because of which prevention of crime takes a backseat,” he said.