Punjab police, with all, for all
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Whether the Punjab Armed Police personnel provided to liquor baron Ponty Chadha and his brother Hardeep had any direct involvement in the shootout that claimed both the brothers' lives is still unclear. What it lays bare, though, is the ease with which affluent Punjabis can get armed guards from the state police.
Securing the same is a sure-shot way to earn the coveted "VIP" tag, and if you can pull some strings, it not just comes easy in the state, it also comes largely free: as in the case of the Chadha brothers. All it takes is an application claiming a "threat perception" to one's security.
That explains why a 70,000-strong force, battling staff shortage, has deployed close to 4,000 personnel to guard both government VVIPs and private individuals — 1,900 guard 740 individuals who are not government officials. That also explains why Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, also the state's Home Minister, had to intervene a few months back to get over 3,000 personnel and dozens of police vehicles withdrawn from VVIP security.
A steady stream of visitors can now be seen lined up at the Punjab Police headquarters each day in a bid to convince the authorities to resume the withdrawn cover.
But for a dozen-odd private individuals, mostly industrialists, who pay for their Punjab Police security cover, others — ranging from businessmen and politicians to religious leaders — are essentially freeloaders. And even among those who pay, some are doing so under court directions.
Senior Punjab Police officers admit privately that the number of protectees and the number of personnel deployed in their security was not this high even during the days of militancy in the state.
A simple arithmetic shows that if all the protectees were to pay the state police personnel guarding them, it would come to a huge sum. But when an overtly generous state decides to be irrationally magnanimous, who minds a free lunch?