Importance of ‘far’ sight

I’m doing some amazing readings currently, simultaneously in the fundamental sciences and ancient indian thought. Both share a resonance in thinking which is also shared by some of the greatest minds in science and history like Schrödinger, Einstein and Toynbee-that the living diversity seen by our sights, actually has unity at its core. Everything in this universe -whether living or non living – has a single origin. We are all made up of the same fundamental particles arranged differently – the various kinds of complexities have evolved over the billions of years – of our atoms and molecules to make us what we are – a mindbogglingly large spread of species of living things. We humans live for merely a moment in the universal timespan and yet we have an urge to understand something of this timeless universe. But do we as a species, gain the far sightedness needed, to benefit from what the individual brilliant deductions that this thoughtful enquiry reveals?

To get an understanding of the sweep of human history, it is important to go beyond the usual mental boundaries of nation, religion, sect or community..

The history of humankind has shown one thing- that no human civilisation has been able to achieve a balance between prosperity and security. Where prosperity rises, disparity also rises and fear sets in. Fear comes from the disparity. When disparity dissolves into oneness with others, love is born. Therefore, a society which thrives on disparity cannot be stable and secure. For stability and security, what is needed is a sense of oneness, which comes from a spirit of tolerance and understanding towards each other and all things – the ancient Indian wisdom of ‘Vasudhaiv kutumbakam’-the whole world is one family.

This ancient indian thinking on oneness and its validation at some level by the facts discovered by the sciences, over the past few centuries, poses an interesting question for policing. How to improve tolerance in society and reduce disparities and self interest, so that there is less crime of hate and needs. The ancient thought combined with the rational understanding from science, points an enlightened way for all governance structures, especially the police and the political.

Policing done with a shortsightedness of individual cases alone, will never improve the sense of safety. A ‘far’ vision and an understanding is needed in its leaders, to put a salve on the wounds of disparity and hate in the society, in order to create ‘trusted policing’. Preventive policing, community policing are useful tools for the same.

Policing Between the Cracks

Recently a DCP of Mumbai city was suspended on the backdrop of his alleged corrupt activities ie bribe demands in order to not harass angadias ( a pre modern courier system still prevalent in India for precious metal/money).

The precious metal jewellery business has traditionally functioned from the shadows of legal framework. This Mumbai police case gives an important understanding of how businesses which are not regulated by Company law and other financial regulations are exploited by various government agencies including police.

Since I currently head the Maharashtra Railway Police (GRP), let me cite an example from the Railways. Many small and medium jewellery making enterprises located in Mumbai send out their finished jewellery for sale to various smaller towns and cities through their courier boys by train. These fellows transport these valuables in their luggage/backpacks, sell the entire/portion of the jewellery at their destination and return by train again carrying large cash proceeds of the sale and the unsold jewellery of any.

The large cash as well as the jewellery means these boys are susceptible to be caught by police/Income Tax/ED anywhere in this entire journey. Each of these departments has a legitimate reason for detaining these courier boys-since the jewellery/cash could be stolen property or part of a money laundering scheme. The boys carry invoices of the jewellery but there is always the need or pretext of checking and confirming before the courier boy can be allowed or not by these authorities’ to board the train with the Jewellery and cash. Further, where police end their role, the Income Tax or ED could be informed to begin their checks. This impacts the business. And therefore can be a reason for corrupt demands and payments.

The jewellery associations claimed that their members were being so harassed by the railway police. Police have a role only to check that these valuable goods are not stolen property from somewhere else and the courier boys are not the thieves who have stolen these valuable goods.

We discussed with these associations and put together an SOP for the association members as well as the railway police to follow for the identification of ownership of the valuable goods as well as for safety of the courier boys. There has not been any complaint thereafter but it is still early to say that the new process works. For corrupt purposes this new process can still be gamed but it will require a risk taking policeman to attempt to do that😊.

There are many such businesses which operate on the fringes of regulation ( like hawkers, roadside services etc) and there are also individuals who cannot voice their exploitation (like criminals with a past record of crime, etc) who are easy targets for corrupt government officials offering them ‘protection’ from their harassment in lieu of periodic bribes called ‘haftas’.

There is a huge need for plugging these cracks in the legal and accountability fabric of our country. Small ticket corruption which affects a large number or groups of people creates a culture of corruption in public life. Clarity, simplicity and overarching regulations covering all economic activity-big or small- will help counter this. Each such case which is disclosed in the public domain should be analysed to plug the regulatory gaps. This could help significantly in bringing a culture of integrity in our public life.

Better policing only through micro interventions-There is hope

I have been heading the Maharashtra Railway Police for nearly a year now. It has been quite a large playfield – about 5000 workforce – for small experimentations in policing. The Railway police could do with a better reputation on their professionalism and commuter assistance. Some small interventions are however yielding positive signs of change.

Getting SPs and other senior officers to closely monitor serious crime investigations through a system of Progress Reports. A major deficit in railway police performance was the poor quality of investigations that happened and the poor rate of detection and apprehending of criminals in robbery/theft cases. Railway crimes are as mobile as the trains on which they occur and if swift action is not initiated immediately after the crime has taken place, the evidence which could be got from co-passengers/train staff and train vendors is lost. The supervision by senior officers, over the investigations being done at the police stations was, however, sorely lacking. I decided to take railway crime work back to the basics. All serious crimes of robbery, murders, crimes against women and children were brought under a system of special report cases to be monitored by all supervisory officers from the DySP upto me. Under this system- it took a lot of effort to get the system rolling- every month I receive from the SPs and CP, who are Unit heads, the progress reports on compliance of initial instructions on all these cases till such time as they complete investigations. An interesting observation was the clearly visible improving detection rate and apprehending of criminals and the recovery of stolen property. I think this improving quality of professional work will show on the morale of the railway police and their self image as this professional capability gets further consolidated.

Encouraging display of humaneness by the policemen deployed on railway stations. Railway stations and trains are used by a large part of the indian population especially the poorer and middle classes. Mumbai alone has around 8 million daily commuter traffic. But the Railway police have always been suspect in their eyes. We started a program called ‘Beyond the Call of Duty’ wherein acts of humaneness and rendering of help by the railway police to railway users was especially acknowledged by us as police leaders, and handsomely rewarded from government funds, at specially held police conferences. It was not only personally rewarding for me to see the acts of compassion as well as bravery of our policemen and women, but I could see that it was extremely motivating for the junior policemen and women to do more such compassionate acts since now that was being appreciated by their police leaders. I feel it may not after all be too difficult a task to change police organisational culture!! Just create the right role models for others to emulate.

WhatsApp as a medium for creating a vision/direction for railway policing and for peer review of performance of police chiefs. I think this is a great communication medium to get consensus for and then to focus work of police chiefs, towards the desired goals. For Railway policing, we focussed on the above two performances. And each Unit’s individual successes were celebrated and appreciated in this peer group. All it needed was an unwavering guiding hand to stay the course, which I think I could provide.

In India, we have extraordinary capability at the middle management police leadership level-but it is only a potential capability unless it is put to the task of change and reforms.

The COVID fatigue

In the last few days I was talking to some of my dear friends from the medical fraternity and I could sense the immense strain in their words of handling the pandemic continuously over the last more than a year.

The hard working doctors and the para medical staff of nurses and support staff like ward attendants have been working tirelessly and without much noise and fanfare to save as many lives as is possible in hospitals and quarantine facilities. But they have seen large number of people losing the battle and dying on their watch.

People do not easily grasp the exhaustion of seeing death in large numbers continuously. The doctors and paramedics have been, for a long time now, in such a situation. Whreas their training had been to act like GOD and cure diseases. Plus the fears for their families if they contract the disease themselves in the process of treating patients. It’s stress, stress stress….

Govts across the country need to do a lot of hand holding and show solidarity with the medical fraternity of doctors and paramedics in these tough times. A beginning could be a special duty allowance as a token of society’s appreciation and gratefulness to the resident doctors, nursing and ward staff. Group counselling sessions for Covid duty staff. Meditation rooms with online teachers for the staff at the treatment centres. Free Covid Testing facilities for the staff before and after Covid duty. Playing with puppies is another way of destressing. It’s a method I saw some Canadian universities make available for stressed examgoing students. Home pickup and drop facilities for the Covid duty staff.

Anything that could make these hardworking guys feel appreciated should be done. And immediately.

The Mumbai Police Sordid Saga-Need for ‘Trusted Policing’

The current events much reported in the local and national news are enough to hang ones head in shame at the sad state of affairs on ‘public service’ in our country. The issues requiring ‘fact investigation’ will find the relevant actors participant in the drama. However, I suspect the deeper issues raised by this episode will be slowly lost and eventually fade out of public memory. Back to square one!

With all my medical and subsequent police training, I have a tendency to look for root cause so that issues can be diagnosed and then fixed to not recur with the frequency they do.

So what are the key core issues thrown up by these murky happenings? 1. How do you create incentive/disincentive structures for bringing in an accountable and public service mindset in governments and public servants. 2. How do you enable right people for the right job in postings of public servants. 3. What are the desired values which should be critical in such appointments. 4. How do you create a mindset of trusteeship in public appointees-both political and the civil service.

If we can collectively think on finding solutions to these issues, we would be thinking on some very important problems in India- 1. of bringing public trust into governance and 2. of governments and the civil services delivering substantial value to the people, instead of seeking personal gains from positions.

Many of my other posts on this blog has some thoughts on creating incentive structures in the police for more public accountability from the police station upwards through Crime Victimization Surveys, improving job satisfaction through training on problem solving, feedbacks from ground level policing to the govt to fine tune policies on various economic activities which generate crime, etc.

One clear solution to the problem of postings is greater transparency. The time has come for filling senior positions in govt after a due publicly telecast interview process and obtaining measurable performance metrics from such applicants. That way there will be more public trust and scrutiny in such appointments, instead of the current closed door methodology.

Leaving the appointees so selected to do their job, with the required delegation of powers to them, for posting of subordinate officers and financial independence to use budgeted funds, will clearly yield desired results on public safety and security.

Such public appointees should also be barred from holding any public appointments post retirement. That will cut any incentive to obey wrongful orders and give them the independence to do the right thing. It may also incentivise them to perform at their current job with utmost efficiency and a sense of delivering public good. .

Maybe it’s time to relook at the structure of the civil service and open it out to more public scrutiny and do justice to the term ‘public servant’. Improving the peoples’ trust in govt and delivery of good and clean governance should be the aim of any such exercise.

Hardship, Not Ease of Doing Business- Indian Banking and the Hapless common man

Let me start with RBI’s detailed circular of 2017 on consumer protection in case of unauthorised electronic transactions It puts the onus on banks to take any liability arising out of unauthorised credit card transactions if the customer reports the fraud to the bank or if the customer confirms the unauthorised nature of the transaction within 3 days of the bank informing the customer of such transaction. This protects any innocent customer with ‘zero liability’ in case of prompt reporting of unauthorised transactions in his/her account. A wonderful step indeed for customer protection.

I recently had an experience worth narrating regarding my Axis Bank credit card, which I feel gives some insights into 1. The hardships a common banking customer may face when dealing with behemoths like Banks and 2. How, the many customer protection measures a regulator like RBI may require of the Banks, do not get complied with.

On 25/05/2020, I was informed by the bank via email, of a transaction done on my credit card from abroad, and the mail further asked me to reply immediately to them if the said transaction was an unauthorised one. I quickly responded to the bank’s email, that the transaction was unauthorised and the amount should not be billed to me and that I have blocked the card (I had done that from the mobile app). The transaction amount was small. Thereafter, the bank’s relationship manager was in touch with me and assured me that the amount will not be billed to me. But I was in for a surprise when I got the credit card statement billing me for this unauthorised amount and an intimation on sms from the bank after two weeks of the incident, that the above amount has been debited from my account!!

I called up the Bank’s senior official whom I knew personally and who was in the know of the earlier correspondence of the unauthorised transaction. Then I get a mail from another Dept of the bank asking me to fill up and send the 1. Axis bank’s Cardholder dispute form 2. Incident Letter addressed to the bank in Hindi or English, and 3. Police complaint/FIR

What is irksome, customer unfriendly and needs correction: 1. The bank did not have any standard line in their first transactions monitoring email intimation(of 25/05/2020), which could have informed the customer(me) to fill up their Cardholder Dispute Form if the transaction was an unauthorised one. The said form should have been hyperlinked in a mail of such criticality. Thus the unsuspecting customer – who was not informed of the follow through process and has lost money for no fault of his/her – is hassled, 2. The bank already had my email intimation from 2 weeks earlier, regarding the unauthorised transaction in response to their then email. Yet they want another Incident Letter from me. Clearly one department of the bank does not know what another department has been doing with the customer. Thus the customer is hassled, 3. They want me to file a complaint with the police. But what will police do with this complaint which is regarding an unauthorised use of the bank card for a small amount in another country? There will be no FIR – only a stamp of receipt of my complaint in the police station. Why burden the police with this unnecessary step when the amount is small and hassle the customer with this process which anyway has no meaning since the bank is itself already aware of the unauthorised use of the card and has blocked the card because of the same?

On the RBI’s side, there is a very comprehensive circular since 2017, for customer protection in online payments. But does the RBI’s audit process capture the compliance of its instructions to Banks especially regarding processes put in place after such circulars? If not, the banking customers-that is, the ordinary banking customers- are not really protected and the circulars may be remaining on the books as good intent only. Maybe there is a strong need for auditing the compliance in Banks, of RBI circulars, through process checking.

So what are the learnings:1. If Ease of Doing Business is a sincere intent and especially for trust in the banking system to improve, all banking processes at customer (especially the depositors) pain points (like the examples in my case cited above, there will be infinite such issues with various banking services) should be reassessed by the banks and RBI. These pain points can readily be identified in customer complaints and every resolution of customer complaint should result in mandatory process improvement around the pain point. That way the number of complaints will actually decrease over time. 2. The ordinary bank depositor relies on the RBI to protect their legitimate interests. RBI too issues guidance on measures for customer protection by banks. Therefore, as mentioned above, audits from RBI’s side should have process checks on bank’s compliance of its customer protection directions. Otherwise, customers can undergo a harrowing time getting their complaints resolved. 3. Police should not be burdened with unnecessary complaints. There can be a monetary limit, only beyond which complaints should need to be registered with the police. That way the banks will be forced to upgrade their monitoring systems if they do not wish to write off losses in a large number of small unauthorised transactions. 4. Banks could offer a choice of sms alerts to their customers so that there is dual monitoring – that is by the bank as well as the customer- on unauthorised transactions. In my story above, I have not mentioned two more small value unauthorised transactions done in a foreign country on the same date that were not picked up in the bank’s transaction monitoring system, but had been billed to my credit card. Had ‘foreign transactions’ on my card been on sms alert, I would have got intimation of the same instantly and it would have helped stop the further fraudulent transactions.

Policing in times of the COVID

Writing in after a long time. But nows the time for some fresh ideas to be absorbed and quickly implemented if we want to have a successful social distancing and effective lockdowns.

1. Police stations should be the focal point of the strategy. Every police station can identify locality based grocery/pharmacy/milk shops to be kept open during lockdowns. Vegetable vendors should be allowed freely.

2. Police stations should contact coop housing societies and identify a single contact point for communication between police station and the residents.

3. Taxis and autos should be kept available in turns in every police station area so that they can be moved as per requirements in medical emergencies or otherwise for people’s needs.

4. Close coordination with local hospitals to check if any person in the police station area is advised home isolation. Ensuring the same the neighbourhood.

5. Police Control Rooms/100 emergency nos to turn their focus on supply chain management of essential supplies into cities.

6. Liaise with civic authorities to spread info in their area on the safety precautions that shops personnel should follow with their customers.

7. Use megaphones on police station mobile vans to calm people with repeated communication on police station phone nos and also essential supplies availability.

8. All online vendors handling essential supplies should be allowed to move on id production.

9. Help should be taken of a few ngos to handle any manpower shortages on keeping supply lines open.

I will put out more ideas as needed.

Weak Institutions

My friend, Shri Shailesh Gandhi, recently published his views on the recent news on the Lokpal. He does not see the Lokpal office becoming a powerful watchdog against corruption unless the selection of its members has more transparency in the sense of ‘perfect fit to the post’, and unless the work of the institution is measured against proper parameters of its responsibilities.

On the background of his views, I got thinking on the institutional failures on the issue of corruption. We have Anti Corruption Offices in all states and the CBI and Central Vigilance Commission in the Centre. Really no dearth of such institutions and legal framework. Yet the problem of corruption flourishes. For an ordinary citizen, to get his work done in time in government offices, it’s not unusual to be harassed for bribes. It’s more the norm. I was watching a Canadian comedy show called ‘Just for Laughs’ the other day and it had a scene wherein the comedian as a fake traffic policeman stops motorists and asks for bribe to not challan. 4 out of 5 people-men and women- roll their eyes in disbelief at him and do not pay! The norm there is of expecting integrity in public jobs and corruption is an exception. Here, if a traffic policeman stops a citizen and asks for bribe, the citizen will not find that unusual. Unless we have that level of public expectation, corruption is a hard problem to solve. Creating more institutions may only result in more frustration at the non resolution of the problem of corruption.

Mr Gandhi’s suggestions for choosing people who can lead the transformation in the corruption culture in this country and measuring the institutional performance of the Lokpal very tightly are very good suggestions. But I am very wary of person-based solutions to hard problems. You may get good and effective people in one term and not so ones in the next. That is a big drain on public hope and exchequer. So are there different ways to approach the problem? To change the statistics (I don’t know if we measure that) on India’s public expectation of integrity in public service delivery?

To me, prevention strategies are the other approach. They exist here and there, but we have not much focused on them with enough vigour. They need to be tackled with the same seriousness as the setting up of the institution of the Lokpal-it can indeed bolster the Lokpal into becoming an effective anti corruption agency. If the ordinary citizen experiences less corruption in his personal and business life, the citizenry as a whole will become less tolerant of corruption and that will be the tipping point for this hard problem.

Lessening paper in government offices, moving towards electronic data, and undertaking a nation wide drive to identify and remove all unnecessary points of public contact for the public official in every government department needs to be done as a focused effort on war footing. For the Police, say traffic charges based on CCTV surveillance through integrated databases of motor vehicles, driving licences and ownership and vehicle insurance. Or FIRs which can be recorded by a call to the control room instead of the mandatory visit to the police station. Licences which can be obtained online. Municipal authorities could monitor their garbage collection through gps. Whether its staff is keeping public areas encroachment free could be tracked through GIS. Computerisation of land records and property registers is another area for work.

The Income Tax Department did it quietly and efficiently in the online filing of IT returns and their randomised assessments within the department. The public perception of corruption in the IT department has gone down considerably as a result. The Indian Railways long ago did it effectively too- by their online ticket selling IRCTC. The GSTN- which removed all the octroi posts- will also chip at the problem of corruption faced by the common man.

Once the points of unnecessary interaction of the people with government officials are reduced substantially, body cameras on the few officials dealing with public, could have enormous impact on corruption.

I think such major reforms are required to be undertaken in the workings /of the police, municipal, revenue and departments like FDA/Pollution Control Boards/Agriculture. They will improve the quality of life for the common man and reduce his general tolerance to corruption.

Training for Problem Solving

Recently I got to read an interesting article, It argues that employee attitude to innovative thinking and problem solving is dependent on the high or low ‘reference point’ that organisations set for judging employee performance. And that this reference point must be nimbly changed in different situations to indicate what is encouraged and what is not. I found this argument to be very applicable in police organisations.

Police face the ‘new and unfamiliar’ more often than most other departments in government. However, like other govt departments, the reference point for decision making in the police organisation is set at ‘low’, and innovative thinking for problem solving is not brought to the table by decision makers – from police station-in-charge to the senior management.

We see the everyday social transitional dilemmas like the unequal status of women, children, castes, religions and the economically deprived, reaching the police station in more and more numbers, as crimes against women and children and civil and human rights abuses, when the law requires that all citizens irrespective of gender, caste or community be treated by society with equality and respect.

The rapid urbanisation through migration and infrastructure development currently in progress across the country, though good in itself for bettering the economic lives and reducing social stratification much prevalent in rural india, has its visible negative fallout in the rising crime and the chaotic traffic. Police, with their current manpower ( India has 152 policemen per 100000 population as against the target of 222/lac people, and this number 152 includes the armed police who are unavailable for the day to day policing of police stations, therefore the actual availability of policemen serving 100000 people on a day to day basis must be much lower) cannot effectively handle this. One therefore sees the huge effort made by the police departments across the country to be able to just about keep a semblance of control over these problems.

The solution cannot lie only in increasing the numbers. The department has to train this manpower in law and public order management and inculcate the public service ethics into this new and old manpower. Also, it is no more enough to merely train them in the laws and procedures. What is needed is a professional policeman even at the police station level, who has a mindset of solving problems and not merely a ‘tiding over the present situation’ approach.

To improve on this mindset quality, which will be more and more required in the police department, I see a big role for the training institutions within the police. Currently, there is no training for developing the problem solving, creative mindsets in trainees. There could be ‘class discussion’ type sessions taking up actual problems, like the ones described above, faced by the police across the country and short term, medium term and long term strategies can be discussed for minimising the size of the problems. Police stations could be asked to send their problematic concerns, especially their major crime challenges, to training institutions. All levels of trainees, from the police constable to the IPS officers, can be trained on such modules, and their performance on this subject could be given a significant influence on their overall grades.

Focusing on developing the right mindsets through training will result in a truly professional, decentralised and yet disciplined police organisation – where the boots on the ground will have acquired the ability to reduce and solve some problems, and also suggest practise-based solutions for long term resolution of issues, rather than merely manage them temporarily.

This is a skill which will serve not only the police while they handle crime and public disorder issues, but it will also function as a feedback to government for its policy making. The final purpose being to ensure a strife-less transition on various facets of our society.


I came across this UCLA Medical School Commencement Address by Dr Atul Gawande. Reading through it, I was struck by the solutions it offers for India’s current problems of rather frequent instances of violence on doctors in hospitals. The solution comes from the speaker’s philosophical thinking. I was also struck by the mission level commonality between the practice of medicine and practice of policing.

The first principle of the practice of medicine is that saving the life of any patient should be equally important to the treating doctor. Dr Gawande acknowledges that practitioners do not always live up to the principle. It is also the first principle of the practice of law enforcement- that there should be no distinction when acting upon complaints of persons from different social status. However, like in medical practice, but more so in policing, this principle is still only a goal to be achieved.

He mentions hospitals as places where you encounter the whole span of society-everyone, irrespective of position and means, needs medical care. Similar are the police stations- everyone needs good law enforcement work by police and the person’s position and means should be irrelevant for police when dealing with a victim or perpetrator of crime. Dr Gawande observes that US has a high incarceration rate ( currently 7 million people) and many of those incarcerated are blacks or the mentally ill and further, that 30% of the country’s adults carry a criminal arrest record! These figures are an eye opener about the unending circular link between poverty, social disadvantage and crime.

Impacting the nation’s economic growth and widely dispersing the benefits of better growth are not in the hands of the police but one of the significant fallouts of poverty and inequality is higher crime- which is fully a police responsibility. Poverty and inequality are two factors whose outcome is more crime in society. How then can the police cope with the hard problem of crime due to poverty and inequality?

Dr Gawande provides the solution for the medical fraternity- doctors need to be open to recognising the common core of humanity in each individual and develop curiosity for understanding what it feels like to be in the other’s shoes. In short, if doctors develop their capacity to empathise, it will help people dealing with doctors overcome their anger and fear through which they often act violently. I especially liked the way Dr Gawande expresses this ‘Once we lose the desire to understand-to be surprised, to listen and bear witness-we lose our humanity.’

What is in this solution which is beneficial for policing? Treating the especially vulnerable populations with understanding and respect means creating a more level playing field for access to justice. And what can cause this better understanding and respect? To my mind, it would be preventive policing through appropriate community policing schemes. It is therefore very important to nudge police activities in the direction of preventive policing through community policing. And a nudge which works here is the budgetary funding which government can provide for community policing schemes and supervised through performance audits of such schemes.