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Mainstream, Vol XLV, No 29

An Enlightening Publication

by D.R. Goyal

Saturday 7 July 2007

BOOK REVIEW

Maintenance of Public Order by Samar Singh; published by National Book Trust, India; pp. 153; Price: Rs 60.

The author of this book reminds the reader of the horrible events of Narendra Modi’s Gujarat 2002 when thousands of innocent citizens were cruelly done to death and many more were forced to live in camps, refugees in their own land. It was perhaps the worst case of communal violence in the history of free India, putting a question-mark on the secular character of India’s polity. It continues to prick the conscience of all decent people as it is realised that most of the perpetrators of those horrors still remain unpunished and strut about as the pride of Gujarat. What a cruel irony for the land of Gandhi!

It is a reminder as it was compiled at the instance of National Human Rights Commission. “The study,” the author informs us, “was especially necessary in the context of communal disturbances in Gujarat and the fact that a compilation of the relevant legal provisions on the subject was not available.” The absence of such a compilation is a reflection on the lackadaisical approach of various Home Ministers after Sardar Patel. There is a plethora of laws related to communal violence as also for punishing those who create an atmosphere in which human beings turn to brutes. There are also reports of the Commissions of Inquiry that analysed the various riots which have occurred with uncomfortable frequency since the sixties of the last century.Had a compilation been made at any time in the last four decades, it would have helped the intelligence agencies to exercise necessary vigilance and prevent such tragic occurrences.

The author, a retired civil servant, has stopped short at calling the absence of such a study as justification for his exercise although it is an indictment of those responsible for maintaining public order in the light of India’s secular, democratic Constitution.

The time given by the NHRC for the study was rather short because of which several other documents, equally relevant, could not be explored. There have been numerous instances of communal violence, the worst form of public disorder before and after 2002. A study of the reports of the Commissions of Inquiry could have thrown ample light on what the author calls “failure in implementation”. The reason for this, in his opinion, “may vary from sheer ignorance to incompetence and negligence, even dereliction of duty on the part of concerned public servants”.

The facts behind the Gujarat phenomenon that have come out since point to the complicity of the highest authority in the State who used compliant police officers for facilitating large scale arson, murder and rape in localities inhabited by the minority community. It was a blatant violation of the ‘Guidelines to Promote Communal Harmony’, issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs in 1997, wherein it has been stated that “Ministers and office-bearers of political parties should exercise maximum restraint and self-discipline in making public utterances on any issue concerning the communal disturbances”.

The Ministry of Home Affairs at that time should have taken serious note of the Chief Minister’s reference to Newton’s Law of Action and Reaction in the context of the Godhra train incident. Instead of that the Home Minister eulogised him as the best Chief Minister in the country.

The author has done a commendable job in putting together all the relevant legal provisions enacted by the Central Government from time to time in spite of serious handicaps. However, equally, if not more, important are the comments and information about the way the various authorities, responsible for maintaining peace and order, have been functioning.

PROVIDING security of life and property has been deemed the primary duty of the ruler(s) since ancient times as is evident from Mahabharata and Chanakya’a Arthshastra. All other measures for assuring the well-being of the subjects, whatever the form of the state, depend on whether the state has been made secure against chaos and public disorder. “This,” he says, “becomes more pertinent and serious when considered in the context of the role of public servants in maintaining communal harmony and preventing the outbreak of communal riots and disturbances.” And, he adds: “Any excuse of the ignorance of the law or negligence in discharge of duty, least of all dereliction of duty, cannot possibly be allowed to prevail in the larger public interest.”

The non-availability of relevant laws for ready reference, therefore, tantamounts to criminal negligence on the part of Home Ministries, both at the Central and State level. A glaring instance of this is the response to an important proposal of the National Police Commission. In view of the crime trends in the country the Commission had suggested way back in August 1979 a draft for a proposal of a special law entitled ‘Disturbed Areas Act’ to replace the existing ‘Disturbed Areas (Special Courts) Act 1976’. This important recommendation “did not receive the attention that it deserved”.

The NHRC had asked the author to study “the relevant executive orders and instructions regarding maintaining of public peace and order”. Towards this end, the author sought the cooperation of the Ministry of Home Affairs. Besides, he also contacted the Minisry of Defence, the National Academy of Administration, Mussouri, the National Police Academy, Hyderabad, the Bureau of Police Research and Development, and the Indian Institute of Public Administration to make available relevant material. To his dismay, he drew a blank from all quarters, except a booklet ‘Guidelines for Promoting Communal Harmony’ which also had only broad generalisation and nothing concrete.

The readers would be amazed why none of these important arms of governance had no record of the recommendations of the National Integration Council (1968) to which all parties were committed. One of its important recommendations was that serious penal action should be taken against an individual/organisation that calls in question the patriotism of a community for its adherence to a particular faith. This tendency has been frequently noticed in the propaganda that creates the atmosphere in which a communal riot takes place.

The author has indicated that non-availability of relevant material was on account of the fact that directives and instructions issued for the purpose of maintaining peace and public order are placed under the Official Secrets Act. The practice might have been found necessary by the colonial administration which did not want to take into confidence the people affected. Why should it continue in free India committed to democracy where the government wants people’s cooperation in this socio-politically important task.? It would be worthwhile finding out whether the recently enacted Right To Information Act has remedied the lacuna.

The book provides a useful compendium of laws for maintaining public order, 15 in all, along with explanations of the implications of each. It will serve as a useful aid to the national endeavour for promoting communal harmony and the secular ideal that, according to a Supreme Court verdict, is the soul of the Indian Constitution. Even more valuable will it be for the Administrative and Police Academies that train the personnel of senior officers who have to bear the responsibility for securing the nation against chaos. The citizenry at large will find it useful both to keep a watchful eye on the administration as also play their own role in achieving this national objective.

A former editor of Mainstream, the reviewer is currently bringing out Secular Democracy; he has been a long-time crusader against communalism and a champion of Hindu-Muslim amity.
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