In an exclusive interview with The Hindu, Tamil Nadu Director-General of Police C. Sylendra Babu counters the criticism over law and order in the State. He also explains the steps taken by the police to prevent crimes and to ensure women’ s safety, the drive against rowdy elements and operation ‘ganja vettai’.
A spate of murders in Chennai — one incident happened on the eve of the Prime Minister’s recent visit — and elsewhere has triggered allegations of a poor law and order situation in Tamil Nadu. How do you react to this?
The spate of crimes of murder in Chennai itself is a made-up story. The Commissioner of Police, Chennai City, clarified that it was not 20 murders in May as projected, but it was only 10. And, in eight of these murders ,there was no previous enmity between the victim and the accused! They were all due to sudden provocation. On the allegations of poor law and order, let us take a look at the present situation. There are no caste clashes, communal violence, police firing, liquor death, labour unrest, crime break-out, train robberies, bank robbery by armed gangs. In the absence of any of these law and order disturbances, it is unfair to cook up a story of poor law and order situation. Rather, I would say law and order has been so good, the State has never been as peaceful as it is now. You will realise it in the backdrop of what has happened in the past — the police firing in Paramakudi-seven deaths, Thoothukudi-13 deaths. In the Koodankulam agitation, the atomic power plant was under siege for weeks together!
Questions over women’s safety are being raised following at least four crimes of gang rape in less than three months. The gang rape of a doctor in Vellore and a woman at Rameswaram caused a sensation. Did lack of policing lead to these crimes? How do you propose to tackle them in future?
Action to prevent crimes against women and children is the top priority of the police. All of us know that registration of complaints is the key, and we started a drive in earnest. It can be gauged from the number of cases we have registered in the last one year. When we compare the number of cases registered during 2020-21 with those registered in 2021-22, it would be evident that we are in a mission mode to register every complaint of crime against women and children. Though the figures could paint a picture of an increase in the number of crimes, they only show that the police have registered cases of more crimes and did a systematic investigation. In the meantime, the crimes that cannot be suppressed, like dowry death, has come down by 50%.
The gang rape in Vellore came to light during an investigation of a robbery. In fact, the victim did not even report this crime and we had to send an officer to Bihar to get her statement. The Virudhunagar and Ramanathapuram incidents were also brought to light, thanks to the proactive role played by the police. In cases of sexual assault by known people, what matters is the action taken by the police. The Virudhunagar case was transferred to the CB-CID and a charge sheet has already been filed. In the Vellore case, trial has commenced. It is not lack of policing; rather it is because of sensitive policing that these crimes of sexual offences came to light.
There have been two cases of alleged death in custody in Chennai and Tiruvannamalai. What are the measures being taken to sensitise the police force to civil liberties?
Both deaths are being investigated by the CB-CID and the investigation alone will prove the guilt or otherwise of the police. There were 84 deaths in the last 10 years, including 15 deaths in 2013, 17 deaths in 2018 and 10 deaths in 2019. In 2021, we prevented such unfortunate incidents to a large extent; there were only four deaths. Our goal is to ensure that there is not a single death in police custody, or in prison, under any circumstances. In fact, this is the standing instruction of the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.
After the case of death in police custody in Chennai city, we are in a mission mode to prevent police excesses. We train the officers in the police academy in the use of scientific methods of investigation, rather than unnecessary interrogations. We are, indeed, monitoring every person in police custody in the station on a day-to-day basis through the State Police Control Room. Interrogation at night in the station is not encouraged; if it is essential in the larger interest of the cases, the Station House officer is mandated to stay in the station throughout the period of custody of the suspect.
There are charges that officers and personnel who handle law and order are slack?
Police officers who are found slack in discharge of duties are always called to explain, and dealt with on departmental charges. But the officers of the Tamil Nadu police are doing a remarkable job. They work 24x7 and give their best at the most adverse and trying circumstances. They keep the State so peaceful.
Only personnel with proven ability and record in sensitive positions are posted as Commissioners and SPs. Most of the Deputy Superintendents in the sub- divisions are highly educated and directly recruited police officers. The district and sub-division officers were never as young and as dynamic as they are now. In fact, the face of the police leadership has changed for good; it is a young face with confidence in the present and a lot of hope for the future.
Another common allegation is that drugs are freely available across the State. The police have booked multiple cases, showing a sharp spike in cases against drugs and drug peddlers. Does it show an increase in drug peddling or a strict enforcement is the reason? The menace of illegal sale of ‘mava’ and ‘gutka’ has also reared its ugly head once again...
Drugs, especially ganja, have been a social evil for long, but supply and use have definitely increased manifold in the last decade. Andhra Pradesh has become an epicentre of production and a major supplier of ganja not only to Tamil Nadu but also to the entire south India. Ganja has found its way into the hands of school and college students in the last decade. It is in this backdrop that ‘Operation Ganja Vettai’ was launched. It resulted in the arrest of 1,221 culprits, seizure of 2,299 kg of ganja worth about ₹2.35 crores. ‘Operation Ganja Vettai-II’ has resulted in the arrest of 2,423 culprits and the seizure of 3563 kg worth about ₹3.84 crore.
As many as 237 two-wheelers and four-wheelers were also seized in the operation. But this has not put the peddlers out of action; therefore, we have intensified our efforts... The bank accounts and properties of 1,074 peddler kingpins were frozen. It has given the desired result. But it is going to be a war against drugs. The Chief Minister has a grand plan of involving the school authorities in the process of weaning students off drugs, and we look forward to working with the School Education Department to achieve the noble initiative. This initiative is billed as DAD (Drive Against Drugs).
Does the police have an updated profile of history sheeters, besides a ready module to keep them under close monitoring? What is the present status of the drive launched against rowdy elements?
Profiling of history sheeters was refined with an application for monitoring the history sheeters and following up on the cases against them. This experiment was successful in Madurai city. Now we are in the process of extending it to other parts of the State.
The ‘A’ category rowdies and their activities in the city of Chennai and suburbs were the most challenging when I took charge. The industrial units in the suburbs felt the heat of their unbridled nefarious activities. Today, these anti-social elements are on the run; and gang wars are curbed. Our teams and operations have been very effective, indeed. Notorious history sheeter-rowdies were rounded up in various parts of the country. They are now facing trials in the pending cases of murder. Our objective is to obtain substantial terms of conviction for these anti-social elements for their earlier crimes so that they do not strike terror by their mindless violence. Around 3,603 criminals have been detained in the last one year under the Goondas Act, the highest ever in the history of the Tamil Nadu police.
Crime prevention is a vital aspect of policing. Do we have any plan to upgrade this important wing of intelligence?
In fact, the Chief Minister’s philosophy of policing is to create a situation which is free from crimes. We are gearing up our machinery to achieve this objective through crime control via the CCTV camera monitoring; ‘Kaaval Uthavi’ app to reduce the response time to reach out people in distress; safety for women by way of GPS-enabled gadgets; a revised patrol system using motor cycles; a jail watch protocol of the olden days to monitor criminals released from prisons; criminal mapping enabled by CCTNS; Face Recognition Software (FRS) to restrict the movement of criminals; an advanced ‘e-beat’ system to improve field policing.
Is there any pressure and influence from any political party on the police force?
There is no such pressure from any quarters. The government expects us to perform and we also rise up to the expectation of the government and members of the public to deliver our services.