Mumbai cops need to sort out priorities

SC

A Mumbai Police circular calling for a crackdown on couples at seafronts in the city has once again got the force fending off allegations of moral policing. While the advisory was retracted and amended after it became public on Thursday, its original contents reveal the prudish and bigoted mindset of the police in recent years.

The top brass of the police have claimed that the circular was issued "in good faith" and was meant to ensure the safety of couples, but its arbitrary subject 'indecent behaviour by couples at seafronts and the role of the police' captures the underlying message given out to officers.

In a city ravaged by multiple terror strikes over the past two decades, a strained police machinery can ill-afford such futile diversions of effort and manpower. What is more surprising is that the advisory was issued "on the basis of ground intelligence", as one officer put it, by the police's Special Branch a crucial intelligence wing that usually concerns itself with issues far removed from the amorous behaviour of young couples at seafronts.

The rationale behind the circular is equally disturbing. Officers claimed that action against couples at isolated spots at seafronts was necessary to ensure their safety, as it is impossible for the police to patrol the entire coastline. Meanwhile, massive deployment on VIP security continues to hamper the police. Instead of preaching morality to couples, the police should find ways of freeing up its resources and getting their priorities right. Rather than shooing away couples, patrolling and surveillance at secluded points along the city's shores should be stepped up.

With a home minister at the helm who himself championed the cause of the moral brigade with his crusade against dance bars, such primitive displays of power by the Mumbai Police are being allowed to continue with impunity. Sections of the archaic Bombay Police Act give the police sweeping powers, and the intolerance in the force appears to be rising alarmingly. Previous incidents of police high-handedness are routinely swept under the rug, and are conveniently forgotten with public outcry usually shortlived.

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