Friday, March 17, 2006

Over 200 Arms Act convictions: tiny drop in Bihar ocean sets off big ripples

The law and order system here is so fragile and moth-eaten that if I take drastic measures, things will crumble further. But there is no alternative. So I will do it carefully and in a phased manner. That was Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, speaking to The Indian Express, days after he took charge of Bihar riding a wave for change. Last week, as his government clocked its hundredth day, the first, ?careful phase? of his campaign is becoming clear: go after those already in jail, secure convictions.

So even as crime statistics haven?t given him any respite, buried in the details of 141 kidnappings and 400 murders since he took charge?a figure matching that from his predecessor Lalu Yadav?s term?there is a distinct glimmer of hope.

In what is unprecedented in the state, 177 criminals have been convicted under the Arms Act. In fact, in March, in less than a fortnight, there have been 30 convictions and the target for this month: 150.

This is just a drop given the ocean of illegal weapons in the state but this drop has sent ripples. For one, this conviction rate is more than twice what it was under the Lalu Yadav government. And, two, the message this has sent down the police lines.

?This was unbelievable till the other day. We want to create fear of law among criminals which had disappeared in the state. Never in the past had they bothered about conviction,? says Additional Director General (Administration) of Police, Abhyanand, the brain behind the drive.

In Arms Act cases, police personnel are usually the only witnesses
and, hence, trial is expected to be shorter, conviction easier and faster. In other words, policemen are under more pressure. ?Initially (when Nitish took charge) there was a spurt in crime. Now, however, it has come down. The public perception is that the government is making serious efforts to check crime. Hope the drive continues,? says C M Saxena, Secretary General, Bihar Industries Association.

Several SPs, when contacted, pointed out that the new steps were creating an impact in building the atmosphere against criminals. ?On the first day in court, one notorious criminal confessed to using arms and committing dacoity. This is an outcome of the drive launched by the police?, pointed out Muzaffarpur SP Ratn Sanjay.
But an indication of how long the haul is can be gauged from the fact that the current drive is limited to getting convictions for those who are already in jail. This exempts criminals with close links to the ruling party. For example, JD(U) MLAs like Anant Singh and Sunil Pandey. Despite Arms Act cases against them, they are out on bail and, therefore, beyond the ?conviction campaign.?

When asked about this, Inspector General (Headquarters) Anil Sinha says: ?Nobody will be spared. To start with, the drive has been launched against criminals in jail and it will be extended further in the future... We have started this since it is easy to produce them in court.?

Another problem which most SPs complained of is manpower shortage. To tackle this, the Nitish government took an innovative ?stop-gap? decision. It decided to recruit 5,000 retired Armymen in the age group

of 35-45 years on a monthly contract of Rs 10,000. They will be armed and provided with separate uniform. ?Army men are better trained and disciplined than our police and it will, therefore, make a difference in our campaign against crime and criminals,? says Nawada SP Shalin. First Flush Govt asks HC to cancel bail of habitual criminals. 100 petitions filed.

? Drive launched in 1000 Arms Act cases in which criminals are in jail. Over 200
convictions secured.
? 5,000 retired Army men on contract for one year. 2500 SIs, 10,000 constables
being taken.
? Trial in public of petty criminals by SDMs.
? Rs 108-cr in Budget for police modernization.

Not yet done

? Big fish (political heavyweights) still on bail. Police say later.
? Concerted crackdown on mafia yet to begin.
? Kidnapping and murder statistics show no downward trend yet.
? No action yet against several tainted police officers.
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