Nov 14, 2010
Responding to the persistent demands of the people of this district the Government of Karnataka set up the Police Commissionerate in January 2010 in Dakshina Kannada District. Mangalore is the fourth Commissionerate to be set up by the Government of Karnataka next to Bangalore, Hubli-Dharwad and Mysore and in April 2010, senior IPS officer Seemanth Kumar Singh assumed charge as the first DIG-ranked Police Commissioner of Mangalore.
Vested with magisterial powers otherwise exercised only by the District Commissioner or the Tahsildar, the setting up of the Commissionerate was long overdue in Dakshina Kannada which had witnessed a turbulent period of strife a few years ago. A Police Commissionerate is bestowed with powers to take a decision on matters aimed at maintaining law and order and therefore is directly responsible for permitting processions, enforcing of Goonda Act, Arms Act and fixing time limits and deadlines for wine shops and live bands in areas coming under its jurisdiction. Lack of magisterial powers for the police was a major impediment in resorting to swift action whenever the situation called for.
As we all know Mangalore, in the past few years has attained notoriety as a communally sensitive city following the headline grabbing incidents of the past few years which have besmirched its image internationally. These mucky incidents might have prompted the government to respond to the demand to set up the Commissionerate and 40-year-old Singh, an officer of the 1996 IPS batch and native of Ranchi, Jharkhand, with jurisdiction over 42 police stations coming under erstwhile Panambur and Mangalore Divisions, assumed charge as the Commissioner.
Though there has been communal amity in Mangalore in last two years, Singh assumed charge at a critical juncture with the onerous responsibility of bringing Mangalore back to its former glory perched on his shoulders. With the morale of the police also lying low after the nasty incidents following the attack on places of worship, he had the additional responsibility of lifting the morale of the police force which was at its lowest ebb.
This posting in Mangalore has been like a homecoming to Seemant Kumar Singh who had served earlier in the city as Superintendent of Police. In a detailed interview with daijiworld.com the amiable and soft-spoken Seemant Kumar Singh spoke at length on diverse issues concerning the district, the challenges ahead and his efforts to build people-friendly police force in Dakshina Kannada district.
Q. You served as a SP in Mangalore in the beginning of the new millennium. Do you find the city has undergone major changes as compared to earlier?
A. As it is rightly said this has been like a home coming to me as I had served as the SP in Mangalore for possibly the longest tenure of 3 years and 3 months between December 2000 and February 2004. I am familiar with the city and the people here. As SP my role was different from what it is today. The challenges of maintaining law and order and communal harmony were there earlier also. But Mangalore has grown as a big city in terms of population, development and with that there has been a proportionate increase in crimes and other evils which are part of a growing city. The real estate sector here has witnessed exponential growth with the apartment culture catching on with the people in a big way. The city now has more outsiders due to the sizeable presence I T industries.
Q. Mangalore has attained international infamy as a hot bed of communal conflicts. How are you facing this major challenge of maintaining harmony?
Ans. Maintaining communal harmony is no doubt a major challenge as the city was quite prone to violence at the slightest pretexts sometime ago. But communal disturbance here is not as severe as is generally projected nationally. From the police point of view, I feel for every problem there is a solution and that solution takes time to show desired results. People also want a peaceful solution to issues of conflict and the police and the district administration can respond positively to any overtures of peace process. With the active cooperation and support of the people any problematic situation can be brought under control. The people of Mangalore have responded positively to our initiative of peace and the results are there for everyone to see. Majority of the people want peace and normalcy and no one wants disturbance as they have realized such conflicts are detrimental to the general health of the people. On realizing this people themselves started taking initiative for holding peace talks. That made our task effortless.
Q. You are saying that the peace initiative came from the people?
Ans. Certainly yes. When the leaders of the major communities started holding peace talks the police acted as the facilitators. Finally the leaders of the major communities started distributing pamphlets in mandirs, masjids and churches and reached out to their own community people asking them to maintain peace and we seized that initiative. We usually take a ground level approach to find a solution to any problem. When the initiative comes from the police it takes time to show results. But when it comes from the people themselves it makes our job easier. In fact we were getting feedback from intelligence sources that people wanted peace and harmony and we facilitated this.
Q. Are you saying that the people were fed up having realized the utility of such conflicts?
Ans. The very fact that the initiative came from the people means that people did realize though a trifle late, the futility of such senseless violence which stalls the process of development of the entire district. Moreover, educational institutions are the backbone of the economy in Dakshina Kannada and due to the disharmony there was a decline in the intake of outside students in these institutions in the last 2 to 3 years. Even a decline of 5% meant a big cut in the profit margins of these institutions and it threatened their existence. Communal conflict always has a telling effect on the business prospects. Earlier all these people were adopting a neutral stand and were not even ready to condemn any incidents of communal violence as if they cared a damn for it. But when they began to feel the heat of dwindling profits threatening their survival they realized the necessity of maintaining peace and amity. Though they should have done much earlier it was not too late either.
Q. Is it true that the tag of Mangalore being communally sensitive is on the wane?
Ans. The notoriety of Mangalore as a breeding ground of communal discord is slowly vanishing and the credit should go to the combined efforts of the people and the police. On seizing the initiative from the people who were fed up with an overdose of violence and media glare the police took out road marches to instill confidence and sent a strong signal to the miniscule minority from all sections who were bent upon fishing in troubled waters and did not want the peace process to succeed. We also had resorted to preventive arrests and all these measures enervated those who tried to stoke the communal factor. We were firm yet polite in discharging our duties.
Q. Are you satisfied with the police efforts to ensure peace in the district?
Ans. The measures we have undertaken to ensure normalcy in Mangalore have been appreciated by our higher ups. Taking clue from the feedback we have received and the action taken by facilitating dialogue we have brought the leaders of the various communities together to sit and find a solution. The peace talks facilitated by us has come in for great appreciation and Mangalore approach was replicated in other parts of the state wherever there was trouble.
Q. It has been almost seven months since you took over as the Commissioner. How has been the experience so far?
A. Dakshina Kannada has this peculiar population composition as most of the people here are educated, cultured and financially rich irrespective of caste, creed or religion. They never fail to challenge each other whenever there is a confrontation. Now the people have realized that it is a meaningless exercise to challenge and they want normalcy as conflict affects everything and everyone. The people are reciprocal to the initiatives taken by the police department aimed at the welfare and development of the district. As the Commissioner I have certain magisterial powers that enable me take quick action if and when the need arises. Earlier procedural delays or lack of co-ordination used to stall the process of development or prevent quick action. Now I have more responsibility and the police department has a direct say in the developmental aspects of the district.
Q. What about the moral police creating discord every now and then and there were two back to back incidents just two months back?
Ans. Of course, the self-styled moral police were creating havoc to some extent but we have acted swiftly in this regard and dealt with the problem with an iron hand. We have identified the informers, the culprits, the source of information, from where it originated and other relevant details that helped us zero in on the trouble makers. By acting swiftly we have sent a strong message to everyone that we will not spare any cahoots who take law in their hands or instigate chaos. Moreover those who are caught causing trouble are booked under the severest of the sections. Once these people know the difficulty of coming out of it and undergo the torture of spending their valuable time, money and energy to attend court cases, they will never indulge in such nuisances again. There is no need for the police to hit such people or get mired in the controversy of human rights violations. We only need to open the law books to see what all sections they can be charged under and allow the law to take its own course. This is safer for the police department also.
Q. Apart form communal harmony what are the major challenges the police have on hand in Mangalore?
Ans. Mangalore has grown enormously and now traffic is a major problem faced by the city which has witnessed a ten-fold increase in the number of vehicles in the last ten years. According to the data collected from the RTO there are about 3 lakh private vehicles other than buses in the city, whereas there has not been a proportionate increase in the road space. Dakshina Kannada district was known for its private bus service and people were dependent on buses for commuting. Now, only the poor people travel by bus and there is an influx of private vehicles on the road which often leads of congestion and traffic jams.
Q. You have said that the Commissionerate has a direct say in the development of the city. What steps are you taking to solve the traffic problem which is assuming gigantic proportions?
Ans. We are working towards finding a short and long term solution to this pressing problem. Short term measures include ensuring road discipline, completion of flyovers and road widening. The Kottara junction has a major traffic problem and this flyover will be ready within a month. Similarly completion of Kavoor flyover is also on our priority list. We are working in tandem with the National Highway authorities, the city corporation and MESCOM. Long term strategy includes setting up satellite bus stations and banning movement of buses in some roads in the heart of the city. We have also identified some parking places within the city to solve the problem. For example we have identified that there is lot of parking space in front of the Town Hall. The area including the park can be developed into a multi-layered parking space without disturbing the existing Mahatma Gandhi statue, to solve the parking problem Hampankatta area. We also have plans to have CCTV in about 15 identified places in the city to have an aerial view and if there is a traffic block it can be monitored and traffic can be diverted suitably.
Q. There is lot of commotion about the businessmen facing threats from the underworld. What action has been taken to neutralize such threats?
Ans. There is no specific threat as such from the underworld and one should not create unnecessary panic or give importance to such perceived threats. Any underworld activity is usually executed through local rowdy elements and outside persons will not come here to commit any crimes or extortions. Just a fortnight ago there was intelligence report about some underworld elements trying to ferment trouble and we swiftly got into action to annihilate any such attempts. We have been trying to identify the local rowdy elements who are easy targets for the underworld and put them in place. The police want to assure the people that there is no threat and if at all any one is facing any threats they should come to us and we will provide protection to them. We have noted down some local rowdy elements and re-opened some old pending cases of even small offence against them. We have found links of those local people who were giving vital information that enabled underworld elements to create fear among the people. We have also come to know through intelligence sources that some of the so called underworld calls were not genuine and were planted just to divert attention.
Q. You have stressed the need to have people-friendly policing to bridge the gap between the common people and the police.. Any specific action in that direction?
Ans. Unless and until the police become impartial it is difficult to create that goodwill. I have sent a strong message down the line that we will not tolerate any impartiality and we have got green signal from the district administration to that effect. The police also have realized the need of being impartial as after all they are doing their job. We have got the confidence of good leaders and people who want peace and prosperity and we are using them against the bad elements. We are aiming at total people-friendly policing and the involvement of the public in everything we are doing. By doing that we can build a good rapport which will make our task easier. People of this district are receptive to changes and they sincerely appreciate when we do anything good.
Q. Whenever something goes wrong police are the first to face the music. What steps have you taken to keep their morale high?
Ans. Frankly speaking policing is a thankless job. If everything goes right it is ok. But the moment something goes wrong we get brickbats and we become the favorite whipping boys for everyone. But the credit or appreciation for the good work done should go to the lower most rank as they are the ones who face the reality on the ground. Police job is such we always create enemies while solving any problem or when we compromise trying to amicably solve a problem. So now our aim is to have people as ‘friends of police’ and we have been working in that direction with all our might. It is only a matter of time before the people feel the change.