Comfort of the cordon

The outrage following the Delhi gangrape brought into focus the wastage of police manpower on VIP security duties, at the cost of the aam aadmi's safety. This brought forth belated reassurances from the highest levels of government. The home minister said in an interview that the matter had received attention from both 10 Janpath and 7 Race Course Road, and that he had ordered the home ministry to carry out a professional-threat related review of all those given protection by the Delhi Police, so that the list could be reduced to to a sensible number. As someone who has dealt with VIP security in the government for years, I don't see this assurance being translated into reality. Unfortunately, security has become a status symbol and a tool of political patronage.

I am reminded of a similar assurance being made by an earlier home minister in Parliament in the mid-1990s, after the opposition raised a din. I was then working in this area at the national level and the proposed changes landed on my desk to implement. Being somewhat naive in the art of governance, I took the task seriously, and promptly went about making a realistic assessment of the terrorism-related threat faced by each person in the "XYZ" category in the capital. I was helped by my colleagues in central agencies and by Delhi Police. We met, discussed the threat perceptions threadbare, and recommended reducing the list by almost 30 per cent. If the government had acted on our advice, it would have saved the Delhi Police considerable resources, which could be used to protect the average citizen.

I then personally carried the pruned list to the home secretary for his and the ministry's approval. On seeing our recommendations, he hit the roof. "Do you want the government to fall?" he shouted and promptly summoned the special secretary to his chamber. He was asked to carry out a fresh review, with clear directions not to touch any politician's security. We could, however, axe the security of as many bureaucrats, both serving and retired, as we wanted.

Having witnessed the gross misuse of armed security provided by state police forces to various shades of politicians throughout the country, I don't see how any of them would now be willing to surrender this undue privilege. They have got so used to the presence of armed policemen around them that life without them would be simply unimaginable. Armed personal security officers running errands, including carrying their baggage at railway stations and even their families' in market places, is a common sight.

Recently, there were reports on how a bench of the Supreme Court, hearing a petition on VIP security, found the criteria cited by the Delhi Police for providing security to individuals both amusing and annoying. The Union home ministry and the Delhi Police commissioner, it was reported, were asked to come back with more plausible reasons than certain functionaries needed security, not just because of the positions they held, but because it helped them take "bold and unbiased decisions". In my humble view, there is little hope of relief to the common man through judicial intervention here, since the higher judiciary is also a recipient of state munificence in this area.

The norms of VIP protection in our country need to be thoroughly overhauled to make them less obtrusive and more people friendly. The flashing red and blue lights on the cars of protected persons serve no purpose. On the contrary, they make the task of the potential assassin easier by helping him identify the target.

Research has proved that numerous weapons in public places add to the general threat quotient. Why then do we see so many automatic-gun-toting policemen on the roads of our cities and towns? Our present VIP security system is also, I am sure, shooing off foreign tourists. The lack of training in handling the weapons given to the majority of policemen is another area of serious concern.

Let us face this stark reality: our present leadership has little concern for the aam aadmi, in spite of what it has been loudly professing from every public platform since the ghastly incident of December 16. As a nation, we rank very low in our willingness to give the privileges that we enjoy, rightly or wrongly. Those of us who have experienced governance from within know this better than others.

The writer is former secretary, internal security, ministry of home affairs, express@expressindia.com

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