A jubilant Mamata Banerjee declared the Supreme Court order on Rajeev Kumar episode to be a victory of people of the nation. She also said that any decision on continuation of “dharna” will be taken by her after consultations with the leaders of opposition parties. Magnitude of face off on display through “dharna” by Mamta Banerjee, which is now almost 48 hours’ old has been unprecedented in the history of 72 years of India’s independence.
Triggered by the highhandedness of CBI, allegedly at the behest of central leadership of BJP, the episode is unlikely to fade from the public memory soon. Having become another rallying point for Opposition parties to come together against the BJP government, it has put Central Government and BJP on the defensive. The episode had its echo in the Parliament which was disrupted.
Cacophony of high voltage discussions on TV channels about what has been called as “demonetisation of democratic institutions” by some has obscured one important issue from public discourse — that is unilateral order by the Central Government for deployment of CRPF to guard the CBI offices in Kolkata after the fiasco on February 3.
Understanding CRPF’s role
CRPF is an organisation with offensive capabilities to operate against militants and insurgents, besides assisting civil administration in maintaining law and order. The role and tasks of CRPF are unique and these include:
- Maintenance of law and order;
- Counter Insurgency and Counter Terrorism operations;
- Anti-Naxal operations; Rescue & Relief Operations during natural disasters etc.
- CRPF also has played an increasingly large role in India’s general elections.
Deployment of CRPF for such mundane tasks like guarding an office or for that matter any static installation is without any doubt wastage and misuse of their capabilities of CRPF. It is the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) or the local police who are responsible to give security cover to government offices located all over the country.
The Constitution of India mandates that maintenance of law and order is a state subject which they perform with the help of Police Act of 1861. The Union list of VII Schedule of the constitution of India however, indicates several spheres of police works in which the Centre plays a vital role. Thus, Central Police Organisations (CPO) derive their constitutional validity from these provisions.
The term “aid to civil authorities” (ACA) is a British imperial usage referring to the process by which local authorities can request the Central Government to lend assistance in times of emergency. This is where the role of force like CRPF comes into play to tackle problems beyond the capacity of the state police force.
In order to tackle such situations, the States requisition the services of the PMFs/CPOs. If the problem still does not come under control, the state can requisition the assistance of the armed forces as a last resort, to restore order under relevant provisions of CrPC.
Deployment of CRPF in Kolkata was improper
The provisions described above raise few important questions in context of deployment of CRPF on February 3 to guard Central Government offices in Kolkata.
First, whether the situation in Kolkata was so serious that there was a threat to the safety and security of CBI office and officials? The answer obviously is in the negative.
In fact, the CBI officials who had gone to residence of Commissioner Police Kolkata were allowed to go their own way after they had told the local police that they were there on a secret mission. There were no indications of any public anger against CBI requiring upgradation of their security. In brief the situation was well within the control of local police and any developing situation could have been easily controlled by them.
The second count on which the present deployment of CRPF fails, is absence of any emergent situation warranting such deployment.
Deployment of central forces directly by Centre can occur only in emergency after informing the State concerned or when there is a constitutionally declared emergency.
Third question is whether State Government had requisitioned CRPF? Again the answer being in negative, what prompted the Centre to take the unilateral decision to deploy them.
The procedure mandates that the local administrative authorities requisition Central Police Forces through the prescribed channels. What was the emergency that prompted the Centre to abandon the prescribed procedure?
Argument that CRPF was not deployed in aid to Civil Authority but to protect an office complex therefore does not hold good.
It is apparent that the deployment of CRPF in Kolkata in the instant case is patently unconstitutional. The blatant illegality of the act is a blow to federal structure of India.
The act once again highlights the impatience of the Narendra Modi-led Central Government with constitutional niceties. CRPF can now be added to the long list of institutions of democracy which have been “demonetised” by the present Government of India.
The writer is a retired Additional Director General of the Border Security Force.