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Questioning a colonial legacy

A view of the Madras High Court in Chennai.

A view of the Madras High Court in Chennai. | Photo Credit: Pichumani. K

As the country celebrates 75 years of Independence, the Madras High Court is seeking to rid the police force of the colonial legacy of employing police personnel as orderlies at the homes of senior police officers. “Such uniformed trained police personnel are performing the household work and menial jobs in the residence of higher officials at the cost of the taxpayers’ funds. Public has a right to question the mindset of the higher officials,” observed Justice S.M. Subramaniam in his recent interim orders. The court had taken suo motu cognisance of the issue.

Last month, the judge had directed the State Home Secretary to take steps to remove uniformed personnel engaged as ‘orderlies’. The court has said the “slavery system” must be abolished, failing which it will take some other course of action. It has posted the case for August 18.

The orderly system was officially banned in 1979. Yet, it is common practice to see men in khaki trousers and white crew neck banians running household errands for senior police officers and their family members. In some instances, even retired top officers have retained orderlies.

Going by rough estimates, a few hundreds of police personnel are deployed in the residences of serving and retired police officers. They don’t perform any police duty, but get a travelling allowance and extra time remuneration. These extra perks without performing any particularly difficult chores keep them happy.

But the orderlies are technically on the rolls of police stations, armed reserve or battalion strength. Their absence from official duties only adds to the burden of the already understaffed police force. The use of a few hundreds of vehicles for personal use again leaves Inspectors and Sub-Inspectors without vehicles. This leads to allegations that they force complainants to hire private vehicles for investigation purposes.

When the High Court took up the issue of the orderly system in 2018, the then DGP gave an affidavit claiming that it has been abolished. With the court bracing to pronounce its verdict, incumbent DGP C. Sylendra Babu recently called for an urgent meeting of senior police officers in Chennai and urged them to send back police constables, head constables and other rank personnel working as orderlies in their camp offices or residences for police duties. He also asked police officers above the rank of SP to give an undertaking that there are no orderlies at their residences.

However, officers engaged in law-and-order duties may be permitted to have a couple of police constables at the camp office to attend phone calls, visitors, etc. A three-member committee comprising the Chennai Police Commissioner, ADGP (Administration) and ADGP (Armed Police) has been constituted to study the issue and take suitable action at the earliest.

Rights activists have also argued that the use of uniformed personnel and police vehicles for personal use amounts to criminal misconduct as the officers draw an allowance of ₹10,000 for engaging servants at home without actually engaging them. Their contention stems from Section 13 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. This states that a public servant is said to commit the offence of criminal misconduct if he/she dishonestly or fraudulently misappropriates or otherwise converts for his/her own use any property entrusted to him/her or any property under his/her control as a public servant or allows any other person so to do or if he/she intentionally enriches himself/herself illicitly during the period of office. It is hoped that on the court’s watch, the constabulary will go back to doing its job of policing instead of running errands for officers.

vijay.kumar@thehindu.co.in


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Printable version | Aug 17, 2022 1:49:13 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/questioning-a-colonial-legacy/article65775219.ece