If all goes as planned, district police stations in Chhattisgarh may soon maintain a database of the fingerprints of every cook, waiter and helper in every hotel, restaurant and road-side dhaba (eateries) across the State. The information, the police hopes, shall help security forces in their battle against the guerilla army of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist).

“The fingerprints shall be stored at the district level and shall aid the police,” said Ram Niwas, Chhattisgarh police's Additional Director-General (Naxal Operations), adding that the prints would not be recorded as biometric information, but as ink-impressions on paper.

Mr. Niwas said the prints would be collected as part of a broader police strategy to improve surveillance across the State. “We issued an order to all districts a few months ago to increase checking at hotels, dhabas, airports, bus stands and shops selling electrical goods… The exact implementation has been left to the Superintendent of Police of each district,” he said.

In the district of Rajnandgaon, for instance, the police have ordered all shopkeepers to maintain a record of individuals who purchase more than 200 feet of electrical wire (approximately 61 metres) as the wire could be used by Maoist rebels to trigger Improvised Explosive Devices [IED]. IEDs accounted for about 40 per cent of all police deaths in anti-Maoist operations in Chhattisgarh since mid-2007.

“Ill-conceived idea”

However, district shopkeepers believe that the idea is “ill-conceived and hard to implement”.

“It is hard for us to maintain records of every individual who buys wire from us,” Raja Bojwani, the proprietor of a prominent electrical shop told this correspondent over the phone. “Most of our customers buy more than 200 feet of wire, and customers go elsewhere when we ask for their name, address and mobile number.”

Mr. Bojwani said that the police order came just a few weeks before Diwali — a time when business is hectic.

“Last year the police asked all grain merchants to report anyone who bought more than a certain amount of grain, as he might be a Maoist supplier,” he pointed out.

Rajnandgaon's Superintendent of Police B.N. Meena disputed Mr. Bojwani's assertions though.

“All shopkeepers need to maintain records for the purpose of paying sales tax in any case,” said Mr. Meena. “We are simply asking them to maintain a record of their customers and report any suspicious person.”

Mr. Meena said his department was still developing the surveillance apparatus in the district. “We are not working on any fixed formula at present.”

Asked if the policy would simply create a deluge of information of limited value, ADG Ram Niwas demurred. “We will not achieve 100 per cent [surveillance], but we will gradually improve,” he said.