In Police departments across the country, there is a good tradition that is still practiced – that of inspecting districts annually. In Maharashtra, the local supervisory officers-the Range IGs- inspect all the districts under their charge once a year, and the Additional DGs from the State Police HQ inspect 2 districts every year. This inspection, which lasts for 3 days, is meant for checking on the overall functioning of the district police. Besides checking the district functioning, it is also an extraordinary tool to mentor the young officers posted as district police chiefs. Most importantly, however, it gives a bird’s eye view of the issues in the districts and offers an opportunity for the police departments to propose policy changes that can genuinely reduce crime. This particular benefit of inspections has however not yet been actively taken up anywhere.
My inspections of two districts this year has made me think on those lines. Police needs to think like a problem solver using the ‘prevention’ hat to make a lasting and genuine impact on the problems of crime and public disorder. I’m convinced that if we can motivate the bottom leaders towards thinking ‘prevention’, criminality and corruption will genuinely reduce. And in many situations, thinking ‘prevention’ means tweaking existing economic and social policies to change behavior.
In one of the districts, I was invited to visit a young entrepreneur’s factory unit manufacturing fly ash based AAC blocks which are a variety of bricks made of aerated concrete. This youngster had worked with me in 2016-17 as a Fellow from the Maharashtra CM’s Fellowship Program and had contributed greatly to the Strategy Support System that we at the state police HQ use, for monitoring efficiencies in expenditure, crime , motor transport fleet etc. He told me that the bricks/blocks that his factory was manufacturing, were not made of mud i.e top soil, and therefore they were an environmentally friendly and yet 20% cheaper and equally strong substitute for mud bricks in construction.
The same evening at dinner, I met a young trainee IPS officer who told me about the severe problem of illegal river sand mining in the district and how he was undertaking frequent raids on the sand mafia to curb their activity. That got me thinking. The sand mafia illegally dredges river sand from the river beds as the government legally permits this activity only over a limited time and for limited amounts of sand. Since construction activity in India largely uses river sand for making concrete, river sand dredging is an extremely lucrative business @ around ₹7000 per metric ton. However, the dredging not only erodes the natural river bed and reduces the water table but also promotes crime and corruption since it is operated with muscle power and patronage. River beds are therefore an extremely lucrative commons in the area, and police enforcement actions can have only a limited impact on the crime. With police actions, the crime only shifts in time and place. Tediously repetitive actions on the sand mafia are therefore an inefficient use of the limited number of police personnel available.
It would be more useful for the police to think in terms of suggesting policies to the state, to make this extremely profitable illegal activity redundant through other means. Like making it mandatory to use manufactured alternatives to river sand and mud bricks in construction, especially in government works-which are a significant portion of the construction business in India. In the meanwhile, I suggested to the young ASP to call a meeting of the building construction companies and advise them to use the alternatives to river sand, like manufactured sand (m-sand) in their building projects. Similarly, if there are issues of illegal digging of mountains for mud brick kilns, encouraging cheap and available alternative products like the fly ash based bricks described above, can be useful to cut the economic incentives for crime and illegalities. Police have a certain authority in their areas and if this authority could be used to influence economic behavior, it could check river sand dredging from the ‘prevention’ point of view.
There are many such issues where police are intimately concerned due to the constant requirement of forceful enforcement and where policy changes could have an impact on crime – like slum proliferation & mangrove destruction in urban commons, human trafficking within and across states, etc. In Mumbai, the Mumbai Port Trust maintains a beautiful garden on the sea front on its property, where earlier there was a dump. Port Trusts across the country could be entrusted with creating and maintaining mangrove parks to prevent their destruction/encroachment by construction activity or dumping of debris. In human trafficking, a significant part of the problem is that the young victim and her parents get lured by the fake promise of a job and better future in the far away city, by the trafficker. The numbers in this crime could be minimised by creating local level call centres in the poorer areas of the state, where verified information on the location of jobs being offered to the young girls can be made available to her parents before they send her off to ‘work’ in the cities.
I believe police actions can be most effective when opportunities for criminal behavior are minimised through policy work. Therefore, ideas from policing must feed into state policy for a safer society.