November 23, 2021
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Good morning. What happens when scientists squeeze a water droplet between two diamonds and blast it with one of the most powerful lasers? We get a new phase of water called “superionic ice.” It exists under the same pressures and temperatures as the centre of the Earth. This is the 18th phase of ice to be discovered.
📰 FEATURE STORY
Militarising the Police: Dealing with Telangana’s cordon and search problem
Doing the right thing isn’t always easy. Whether you’re left-leaning, right-wing, centrist or simply above it all, we’re pretty sure you mean no harm to the general public. The point is that most people want to do good and be hailed for the right reasons in society. It’s just that the public is a complicated beast and thinking with your heart can, a lot of the time, ruin someone’s day.
Right now, in Telangana, the police are busy cordoning off areas that they genuinely believe are doing more harm than good. The problem is that most of those areas house minorities and the “lower rung” of society. And also, that the “cordon and search” tactic, originally used by the military to “crack down on insurgents”, is considered a rather heinous human rights violation. What we’re trying to figure out today is whether this is just another case of harassment or some seriously unfortunate collateral damage.
“Cordon and search” is a basic counterinsurgency tactic used by the military in places where they might be lacking real intelligence. It was first used by the Indian army in the Kashmir Valley, early in the 1990s. As the name suggests, military personnel will cordon off, or seal off, the area to be searched and then search it for weapons or terrorists. While this may sound like a regular house search, it must be noted that house searches require actual intel about the illicit activities going on in the house. Cordon and search doesn’t need that. In fact, in most cases, the tactic is played out based on a hunch.
In Telangana, the police regularly use cordon and search on civilians to detain suspects, seize illegal goods and confiscate stolen vehicles. Between 2015 and 2019, the Hyderabad police alone conducted about 41 cordon and search operations, deploying around 5,306 police personnel. And according to recently revealed data, these searches are only growing in intensity. As civil rights activist Kaneez Fathima puts it, “Initially, they used to check outside the doors, summoning the boys in the house, and checking Aadhar cards and documents. Now these searches are conducted inside the homes”.
The data also showed that these searches were only happening in areas that are economically backward or have a higher number of minorities residing in them. Certain areas were even cordoned off multiple times. While the police are sure that they are doing everything by the book, civil rights activists are worried about the more sinister implications of these operations.
You can’t sleep on safety
Despite all the hue and cry about these operations, the police are insistent on their necessity to “monitor law and order” in the state. And law and order can only be upheld if the authority enforcing it follows the same. So, as per the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), the police are allowed to conduct searches “to control anti-social elements and terror suspects.” In fact, if we are talking about the legality of the situation, the Telangana police actually seem to be doing things by the book.
According to Rachakonda Commissioner Mahesh Bhagwat, cordon and search operations are only executed once a warrant has been issued. Warrants need to be issued by either judges or a magistrate and as per Section 20 of the CrPC, “the Police Commissioner is also the district additional magistrate.” Along with this, Section 93 of the CrPC allows the Commissioner to issue a warrant for these search operations. And they are only sent out once a request, clearly mentioning the reason for the search, has been made to the Commissioner by the concerned authorities.
Now that we’ve figured out the paperwork, let’s talk classification. Addressing questions about how an area is picked for a search, “top cops” have said that they focus on areas where “criminals have taken shelter”. They usually base these assumptions on “tip-offs and inputs” from the public and their crime teams. The goal is not to attack any specific community but simply, find the most efficient way of detaining such “anti-social elements”. Former police commissioner C.V. Anand even spoke about the effectiveness of cordon and search operations by stating that they “arrested many suspects along with stolen vehicles”.
Over the years, the police have also been trying to make the process a whole lot more humane. Before, the police would conduct the operations really late at night. They believed that the criminals would actually be at their places of shelter at those hours. But, after the unnecessary hassle it caused innocent residents, the timings have changed to anytime in the mornings or early evenings. The presence of women constables is also ensured to make sure that the rights of the women residents aren’t being violated.
Violation – the human rights kind
Several activists, over the years, have pointed out that these operations are becoming more of a class issue. Some cordon and search operations are even being carried out to simply target minority communities. In fact, a major reason for a lot of these operations has been to curb drug use. And while drug use is clearly “seen in all classes of society”, the searches only happen in the vulnerable parts of town. According to social activist S.Q. Masood, “These [searches] are happening in slums where poor and illiterate people reside. These are people who can’t really question the police.”
When it comes to the efficiency of these operations, the numbers clearly show a very different picture. Out of the 41 cordon and search operations mentioned before, only 25 FIRs were registered. That’s after searching around 30-40 houses per search operation. Interestingly, a majority of the cases were also “of less gravity”. Most of the FIRs were filed for crimes like food adulteration, “making atmosphere noxious”, ads for “magic remedies” and concealing presence. If anything, these repeated searches of certain colonies only worsen the public’s perception of the same.
Bringing up the legality of this whole ordeal, lawyers have questioned the law enforcement’s Section 93 argument. According to judicial activist T. Dhangopal Rao, “That section is exclusively used when someone has been served a summons under Section 91 of [the] CrPc and there is disobedience. If there is disobedience then enforcement can be done.” He even said that the possibility of a magistrate approving the search of an entire colony overnight is considerably low. Mostly because a specific provision in the law states that “they cannot be disturbed from evening 6 to morning 6.”
Finally, a major part of the controversy has been about the police’s collection of Aadhaar details and phone numbers from the residents of the colonies being searched. Fingerprints of residents were also being collected in certain neighbourhoods. This happened even after several individuals, weary of the Centre’s push for a National Register of Citizens, were hesitant to turn over that information to the police. All of this, without any actual paperwork, is a complete invasion of privacy. Making this an active violation of the citizens’ fundamental rights.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
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🏴 STATE OF THE STATES
Runway problems (Maharashtra) – At Sindhudurg, the newly opened Chipi airport is facing an unexpected problem – jackals straying onto the runway. Officials said at least three packs of 25 to 30 golden jackals were spotted on the airport perimeter. Pilots have also reported similar sightings. The area surrounding the 275-acre premises is grasslands, and locals have told authorities about gaps in the fencing. One suggestion from the forest department is for airport authorities to regularly clear shrubs and grass.
Save River Sutlej (Punjab) – Noted environmentalist Medha Patkar launched the ‘Sutlej Bachao, Punjab Bachao’ campaign. Accompanied by activists and volunteers from the Punjab Action Committee (PAC), the campaign was launched after she toured the Mattewara forest and the villages near the Sutlej river bank. The government has planned to set an industrial park here. Many NGOs have been campaigning for months against the proposal. With the upcoming polls in the state, the campaign aims to lobby all parties on this issue.
Cracks appearing (Andhra Pradesh) – The 500-year-old water tank called ‘Rayalacheruvu’ in the Ramachandra Mandal has developed cracks. Due to the recent spell of heavy rains, its capacity is full for the first time. The Chittoor district administration warned residents of 16 villages to vacate as a precautionary measure. Officials did say that there is no immediate danger of any serious breach.
Studying mental health of COVID survivors (Jharkhand) – The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has selected three hospitals in the state to survey the mental health of covid survivors and their family members. The study will begin in the first week of December. It will be conducted in other states in the region. The Central Institute of Psychiatry (CIP) in Ranchi has sought permission from the Ranchi district administration for a door-to-door survey. Ranchi is the worst-affected district in the state.
Collaboration for education (Tripura) – State Education Minister Ratan Lal Nath said the state will sign an MoU with the Tony Blair Institution to provide quality education. They would work to reform the State Council of Educational Research and Training and District Institution and Education and Training. Tripura has over 7 lakh students studying in around 5000 schools. In addition to the institute, 15 other NGOs will also help in this endeavour.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
82 – India’s rank in the global list measuring business bribery risks. The list compiled by anti-bribery standard-setting organisation TRACE, measures business bribery risks in 194 countries. Last year, India ranked 77th.