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50 shades of khaki

Back-to-back transfers, suspensions and arrests over drug-related cases in the recent weeks have tarnished the image of Punjab Police. Yet, it is the same force that has busted terror modules and maintained peace in the state15 Jul 2018 | 1:38 AM[ + read story ]

Jupinderjit Singh    

Four reports by separate Special Investigation Teams (SITs) on allegations of corruption, patronising drug smugglers/tainted police officers and misuse of authority leading to suicide by an industrialist are lying in a sealed cover with the Punjab and Haryana High Court. It is for the first time that three Punjab DGPs — Suresh Arora, Dinkar Gupta and Sidharth Chattopadhyaya — have figured either as accused or victim of conspiracy in these cases.

These reports are likely to be opened on July 25. The court has quite a mess on its hands. A SIT led by S Chattopadhyaya, formed to investigate the role of former SSP Raj Jit Singh for ‘ignoring or protecting’ alleged drug smuggling activities by inspector Inderjeet Singh (since dismissed), has submitted its report. Chattopadhyaya submitted a separate report on the role of DGPs Suresh Arora and Dinkar Gupta in protecting Raj Jit Singh. Then, the Special Task Force has also filed a report on Raj Jit Singh. Another SIT has also submitted a report on the alleged role of Chattopadhyaya in the suicide of industrialist Inderpreet Chadha. The Punjab Home Department has also filed an internal inquiry report regarding the two DGPs.

Subsequently, SSP Moga Raj Jit Singh was replaced by SSP Kamaljit Dhillon. He too was unceremoniously removed from the post last week after allegations of his role in patronising drug smugglers too.

Raj Jit Singh had been able to continue on the position for more than a year despite allegations against him. He was even recommended for a meritorious service reward before he came under fire in the spate of drug deaths in Punjab. However, none of those had occurred in his district. After his removal, the Vigilance Bureau opened its ‘cold files’ to issue a lookout notice against Raj Jit Singh in 2015 case of alleged corruption.

Meanwhile three DSPs were recently booked for drug smuggling. Three SHOs and 10 others, including sub-inspectors, assistant sub-inspectors and constables, were suspended last week for alleged improper handling of drugs cases. More than 100 cops have been booked in the last three years for abetting drug smuggling.

The conviction rate of drug smugglers under the NDPS Act may be one of the highest in the country at 72 per cent last year, but still, it is a cause of worry. The rate has declined from 81 per cent in 2015 to 76 per cent in 2016. A survey by the Special Task Force claims that the district police mishandled 900 cases under the NDPS Act. All this points to a deep-rooted rot in the rank and file of the 80,000-strong police force.

The other side of the story

The Punjab Police has busted nearly 45 modules of terrorists, allegedly trained by Pakistan’s ISI in the past about two years.

One of the most significant modules was behind nine targeted killings of influential religious or political organisations, mostly Hindu and followers of Dera Sacha Sauda. The killings threatened to tear the fabric of communal harmony and peace earned after much sacrifice in the terrorism era. The module had links in the UK, Italy and Jammu & Kashmir. No targeted killing has happened since.

The same Punjab Police was under fire for failing to solve the series of sacrilege incidents occurring since June 1, 2015. The CBI, too, investigated this besides two Commissions of Inquiry set up by the state government to probe the incidents, failed. Last month, the Punjab Police arrested 10 followers of the controversial Dera Sacha Sauda for involvement in incidents of arson.

Punjab witnessed peace despite several provocative incidents, including the arrest of Dera Sacha Sauda head Baba Ram Rahim Singh and controversy in Doaba region between Dalits and other organisations.

Notorious gangster Vicky Gounder was killed in an encounter while Dilpreet Dahan, alias Baba, was captured after a shootout recently. All but one escapee from the Nabha Jail are behind bars. From 57 gangs active in organised crime two years ago, less than 10 are operating now.

The real picture

These two contrasting pictures of the Punjab Police have been befuddling analysts. Is the force riddled with corruption from top to bottom or are these cases mere aberrations, a minuscule percentage when compared to the strength of the entire force? “The accusations and counter-accusations by top-ranking officers reveal a larger underlying disease,” said an officer involved with the investigations.

Another remarked on the impact of the cases. “Either way, we will see top-ranking officers proved guilty of corruption, misuse of authority or proved a liar due to false allegations. The force would be at a loss in both the scenarios,” said a middle-rank police officer.

Need for cooperation

Senior police officers stress on cooperation for better policing. However, egos fly high. One has rarely seen officers meet regularly with improving efficiency on mind. “The STF and the state police wings rarely sit together. Instead, they have locked horns,” observed a middle-rank officer. The differences have caused friction to such an extent that the CM had to call a meeting of top-ranking officers and give them a piece of his mind. 

Scandal sheet

Cops in drugs case: On June 18 last year, the Special Task Force (STF) against drugs arrested Police Inspector (since dismissed) Inderjit Singh with 4kg heroin. His questioning pointed at the alleged role of SSP Raj Jit Singh. He moved the HC for protection, which formed a SIT headed by DGP S Chhatopadhyaya.

Sleazy video controversy: In June last year, Chief Khalsa Diwan president Charanjit Singh Chadha, 86, was caught on camera with a woman, principal at one of his schools. In December, Chadha was booked for outraging the modesty of the woman. Chadha’s son, Inderpreet, committed suicide on January 3. Eleven persons were booked in the case. A challan was filed in record 57 days. It quoted Inderpreet’s old notes naming DGP S Chhatopadhyaya among those responsible for his suicide. 

SP Salwinder dismissed: The government in November last ordered premature retirement of Superintendent of Police Salwinder Singh (54) after a series of controversies. While five women constables accused him of sexual harassment, another accused him of rape. He had hit headlines after a group of militants from Pakistan kidnapped him from inside Indian border and dumped him in the fields before attacking the Pathankot Air Force Station on the intervening night of January 1 and 2 in 2016.

The force in numbers

Total force 81,933
DGPs 9
ADGPs 20
IGs 35
DIGs 11
SPs 270
DSPs 380
Inspectors 980
Sub-Inspectors 2,727
ASIs 4, 933
Head Constables 12,251
Constables 60,317

Patiala
Security breach at Nabha jail

The district police came under the scanner when six prisoners, including Khalistan Liberation Force chief, Harminder Singh alias Mintoo, escaped from the high-security Nabha jail on November 27, 2016.

Twelve armed men,  dressed as cops, attacked the jail premises and started shooting indiscriminately. All of them managed to escape the district and the state. Mintoo was later held from Delhi. Another militant, Kashmir Singh, and four gangsters — Harjinder Singh Bhullar alias Vicky Gounder, Kulpreet Singh alias Neeta Deol, Gurpreet Singh Sekhon and Amanpreet Tonda — too made good their escape. They were later arrested. The police haven’t been successful in arresting Kashmir Singh so far. Gounder was killed in a shootout in January this year.

Later, Assistant Jail Superintendent Bhim Singh, Head Warder Jagmeet Singh, and Tejinder Sharma, who runs Shagun Sweet Shop in Nabha, were arrested on charges of abetment and criminal conspiracy with the escapees. A DSP and an inspector were issued showcause notices for allegedly handing over the passport of the mastermind of the jail attack, who later fled the country.

Skeletons tumble out of the closet

Former SSP Surjit Grewal was booked by the Vigilance Bureau on December 21, 2017 following a complaint by US-based Sarabjit Singh. He had accused the former cop of indulging in corruption from 2009 to 2014, while he was in service. The accused had allegedly transferred 12 acres in the name of his son, Jagjit Singh. The FIR also stated that the officer’s conduct during service was questionable. 

Transactions in the name of his family members also came under the scanner.

“The officer and his family members have fixed deposits worth Rs 25 crore, besides shares and nearly 40 kg jewellery,” said the complaint.

“While his official earning from 1999 till retirement was around Rs 2.12 crore, he spent about Rs 12.19 crore during this period,” reads the FIR. At present, he is lodged in jail and is facing trial.

Ludhiana 
Outing sex abuse ruffles feathers

A Women’s Day event in March turned embarrassing for the police when IGP-Provisioning Gurpreet Deo said that sexual harassment at workplace was rampant in Punjab Police and drastic steps were needed to curb it. She was attending a state-level police conference organised by the Ludhiana Commissionerate. This statement became the talk of the town. Deo was then heading the internal complaints committee dealing with sexual harassment cases too. She had also said that such cases come to light regularly in the police department.

Dismissed for misdeeds

On May 17, 2017, ASI Kuldeep Singh, posted as Line Officer in Police Lines, was dismissed from service for sexually exploiting and blackmailing women constables, mainly new recruits. He had been making advances, extending unwelcome and explicit sexual overtures and remarks. On May 10, 2017, the then CP RN Dhoke had also dismissed ASI Gurkewal Singh for his alleged involvement in the extortion of Rs 20 lakh hawala money; he was reinstated later. On July 14, two cops, including ASI Swaran Singh and HC Kamaljit Singh, were dismissed for sheltering a sports gambler and prostitution racketeers among others. On September 9, Dhoke even dismissed a munshi of Basti Jodhewal Police Station for brutally attacking a man, Simarjot Singh.

ASIs given compulsory retirement

On March 22, 2017, the then Police Commissioner Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singh gave compulsory retirement to three cops ASIs Kulwinder Singh (48) and Davinder Singh (55) and Head Constable Neelkanth (40). CP Kunwar had alleged that an IG-rank officer, who wanted to replace him as Ludhiana CP, had hatched a conspiracy against him. Kunwar said that while he had ordered that no challans will be issued by the traffic police for a month as a goodwill gesture, the cops, in connivance with the said IG-rank officer, challaned a Sikh girl. He alleged that the matter was deliberately taken to the CM and the DGP office. A few days after the incident, the CP was transferred.

Woman constable ends life

The suicide by 23-year-old Constable Amanpreet Kaur caused a major embarrassment to police in Ludhiana. Posted at Jodhan, she ended life on June 10 last year. Police booked munshi Nirbhay Singh for abetting the suicide. Protests seeking justice for the cop rocked the district. However, later during the probe, the munshi was given a clean chit and a case of abetment to suicide was slapped on Jasdev Singh alias Jassu of Akalgarh village, with whom the cop was reportedly having an affair.

Cops caught red-handed

It was an embarrassing moment for the Khanna Police when Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal caught two traffic policemen taking bribe from commuters at the Gurthli bridge near Doraha on March 23, 2017. Initially the matter was referred to then CP Kunwar Vijay Partap Singh, but later the cops were found attached with the Khanna Police. DIG Ludhiana Range, SK Kalia suspended the guilty cops, identified as Manjit Singh and Harjit Singh. The minister was on his way to Chandigarh from Ferozepur when he recorded a video of cops taking bribe.

Bathinda
Indicted, but no action

DSP Gurjit Singh Romana was indicted in inquiries conducted by the then DIG (Bathinda range), Ashish Chaudhary, and the then Faridkot SSP Nanak Singh for releasing a man who was booked for possessing habit-forming tablets in bulk on April 10, 2017. Acting on the complaint, IGP Bathinda MS Chinna had marked a probe against SSP Bathinda Naveen Singla and DSP Gurjit Singh Romana to SSP Faridkot Nanak Singh. The probe found that the accused, Gobind, was held with 1,500 illegal drug tablets but was released within 10 days following the intervention by these two officials. Later, DIG Ashish Chowdhary was given the probe and he handed a clean chit to the SSP, but indicted DSP Romana. However, till date, no action has been initiated by police against him.

Case property goes missing

In March 2018, a head constable posted at Nathana Police Station in Bathinda allegedly took away Rs 14.11 lakh, which had been seized as case properties. Satnam was posted as munshi at the police station. The embezzlement came to the fore when the police counted the money. A case was registered against the cop on the charges of breach of trust by a public servant at Nathana Police Station.

Police ‘misuse’ recovery 

In May 2017, three cops were booked on charges of misusing cash, gold jewellery and a revolver from the ‘maalkhana’ at Rama Police Station. Former SHO Gursher Singh, Head Constable Iqbal Singh and Constable Manpreet Singh were accused in this 2015 case. The items had been recovered from the Mohali residence of Mangal Singh Sandhu, former director, Agriculture, then held at Rama Police Station.

Amritsar
Case of mistaken identity

Mistaking him for notorious gangster Jaggu Bhagwanpuria, a team of anti-narcotics cell of the Punjab Police gunned down Mukhjit Singh alias Mukha, a SAD leader, on the outskirts of Amritsar in June 2015. A Special Investigation Team headed by the then IG (Investigation), G Nageshwar Rao, indicted the cops. On his recommendation, the police booked eight cops in July 2016. Those booked were SI Ramesh Kumar, then in-charge of Amritsar Anti-Narcotics Cell, ASI Joginder Singh, head constables Rajesh Kumar, Jasbir Singh, Navjot Singh, Ranbir Singh and Sandeep Kumar and Constable Satwinderjit Singh. The cops were later suspended on the directions of the Punjab and Haryana Court. The HC has also awarded a compensation of Rs 20 lakh to the victim’s family. The local court has framed murder charges against the cops in March this year. The cops have now filed a revision petition in the HC, which is pending.

Inmate dies in custody 

Following the orders of the Punjab and Haryana High Court in 2015, the local cantonment police booked 33 government officials, some of them from Amritsar Central Jail, in connection with the death of an inmate in 2013. The case was registered in March 2016. The cops held jail superintendent Amrik Singh and a doctor in January last year. Those booked included BS Bhullar, jail superintendent; superintendent Amrik Singh; assistant superintendents Gurbinder Singh, Tasvir Singh and Jagtar Singh; medical officer Dr Gunam Singh; and naib tehsildar Harvinder Singh. The cops had allegedly taken Raju Chand from his residence for questioning. His mother, Manjit Kaur, later came to know that he had been arrested under NDPS Act. On November 4, she was told that he had been admitted to Guru Nanak Dev Hospital where he died during treatment. He had injury marks on his body. Manjit Kaur approached the HC, which directed the police to register a case against the cops and the officials responsible for the negligence.

Chasing thief, cops land at CM’s office

In June 2017, Deputy Commissioner of Police Amanjit Singh Bajwa was suspended in connection with a raid at CM camp office. Inspectors Harwinder Singh and Arvinder Singh, who were heading the two teams that conducted the raid, were also suspended in the case. It was alleged that the two inspectors, along with Akali leaders, entered the office and searched it without following the due procedure. Police teams claimed that they were following a theft accused and had specific input that he was hiding in the CM’s camp office. However, the incident infuriated Congress leaders, who demanded immediate suspension of the accused cops, including a DCP. 

Jalandhar
‘Specialist’ falls in the trap

Senior police officer Inderjit Singh was known in the police circle as ‘specialist’. The police found a large haul of narcotics, arms and cash from his Phagwara house in June last year. The officer held the record for 100 per cent recoveries in drug-related cases, but all the arrested were subsequently acquitted for want of evidence. Despite holding an unmatched record of drug seizures, the officer was arrested by the Special Task Force made to curb drugs menace in the state.

The player, too, gets tainted 

Giving a huge blow to hockey as well as the police fraternity, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh recently dismissed Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Daljit Singh Dhillon, also a hockey player, after a Ludhiana-based woman levelled allegations against him for pushing her into drugs. Anita Punj, director of the Punjab Police Academy, Phillaur, held the inquiry. Dhillon was booked under charges of rape and under various sections of the NDPS Act.

SHO in drug chase 

Adding yet another tainted cop into the list was Sultanpur Lodhi SHO Sub-Inspector Sarabjit Singh who was suspended after former Cabinet Minister Rana Gurjeet sent more than six complaints to the CM’s office alleging his role in the drug trade that mushroomed in the area. In his complaint, Rana had accused Sarabjit Singh of running a drug cartel at the Latianwal village, a hotbed of drug activities.

Health check

Long working hours and the pressure to perform have taken its toll on the health of cops. The annual medical test of the force, conducted at the end of 2017, has revealed: 

  • 42 HIV positive cases
  • 1,700 suffer from hypertension
  • 91 suffer from Hepatitis B
  • 260 tested positive for Hepatitis C
  • Diabetes: 1,646
  • Cardiac: 13
  • Cholesterol: 1,496
  • Uric acid: 525 
  • Kidney: 7
  • Anaemia: 359
  • Fatty liver: 356
  • Cancer: 3

Stress matters

A study of Amritsar says there is gross under-reporting of stress-related problems due to the stigma attached to seeking help. There is a significant level of stress in the force, which exists due to pressures of work and family combined with long duty hours, continually increasing crime and alert state. The recourse for the police personnel is often sleeping pills or alcohol. A few even drift towards drugs.

Inputs from Rachna Khaira in Jalandhar, PK Jaiswar in Amritsar, Nikhil Bhardwaj in Ludhiana, Sukhmeet Bhasin in Bathinda and Aman Sood in Patiala. Tribune file photos & agencies

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