By Vijay Darda | 01-09-2014
We are all aware of the fear that the sight of a lowly police constable strikes in the hearts of anyone who tends to cross the line on the road. The most coordinated response for any checking on the road by these constables, comes from the auto-drivers who make a quick U-turn and then advise all others to avoid the road like plague. So, the thought that immediately crosses the mind at such a sight is that here is a crisis that needs careful handling. All methods of persuasion are used to somehow get over the crisis, and usually something or the other works. Mostly, it is vitamin-M, and this phenomena has given rise to a popular impression that this fellow makes merry and has an easy life. No points to be scored by contesting this perception.
However, we also know that perceptions are part myth and part reality. The tragedy in Maharashtra at least has been that the myths have dominated the reality. Whatever be the scale of corruption in any field, it is not tenable to determine the working conditions on the basis of this distortion as the core premise. If the same yardstick were to be made applicable that the constables need not be paid a decent wage as they have lot of opportunities to have extra income, then the salaries of teachers who offer private tuitions should also be reduced, and the same logic should be extended to a whole lot of jobs that have a built-in scope for private practice. And of course ministers and chief ministers should not be paid any salary. About them the perception also abounds that they have a cosy life and are making merry all the time.
But as nothing of this sort happens, we do have an unacceptable situation that the police constables are paid even lower wages as compared to their counterparts in the revenue department. This situation obtains even as the working conditions in the police force are quite tougher as compared to the revenue department. The working hours being one such prime difference. The matter has been in the courts, the director general of police has given an affidavit confirming that the police constables be treated at least on par if not higher than their revenue counterparts in the matter of wages. Another former DGP Arvind Inamdar, a sensitive soul who has now turned into an influential public speaker in his post-retirement avatar, has been making this argument for a long time.
But then it is perhaps Maharashtra’s tragedy that sensitive politicians fired by an intense zeal to accomplish maximum public good and welfare have eluded us in recent times. This is a state known for its progressive administration, and in the past it used to set the example for the entire nation. But sad to say that under the present chief minister there has been a decline in the efficacy of its public-oriented decision making. Or else, the issue of the police constables getting wage parity with their revenue counterparts would not have been hanging fire. Instead of being sore with the State government, the 2 lakh strong work force and their family members would have been grateful that at last they have got their due. However, when we have an administration headed by a politician with the inner core of a ‘bada babu” such outcomes are not unexpected. The administration under such a leadership is more concerned with biding time, than with achieving the maximum possible public good within the limited time available to it.
It is also one of the features of public life, that even as we spend an inordinate time discussing such issues when it comes to actually improving the conditions on the ground our administrators and politicians spend very little of their energies in solving the problems. Law and order, policing and justice delivery mechanisms are the key areas in this respect. In this respect, Maharashtra may be faring comparatively better on certain parameters, but then the neglect of the police force, the lower judiciary as well as the failure to introduce modern technology and a fresh approach to solving the problems in these areas have been chronic failures in all states.
There is a long list of policemen who have laid down their lives in the defence of the nation, and their bereaved families have been suffering all kinds of betrayals and humiliations primarily because all the headline grabbing promises that have been made to them in the heat of the moment have not been fulfilled once the immediacy of the event is over. A case in point is the treatment that is meted out to the families of the policemen ‘martyred’ in the December 12, 2001 terrorist attack on parliament. Only one member per family is allowed to get into the high security parliament complex when that day is observed. It is not that the parliament does not have space for the persons who want to pay their respects to their loved ones, the problem rests with the mindset. In the administration and elsewhere there is no dearth of bosses with sick minds who argue that the cop who dies in the line of duty has simply done something for which he or she has been employed and thus needs to be treated just like anyone else. This line of argument misses the basic fact that the ultimate sacrifice of one’s life irrespective of the terms of any employment contract is not something that can be treated like everything else. A lot of cozy comfort that these bosses enjoy comes because these constables actually sweat it out beyond their call of duty.
In so far as the Maharashtra government is concerned, it still has the time to take remedial action before the code of conduct on the eve of the State assembly elections sets in, and may be chief minister Prithviraj Chavan can still muster up the energy and drive to make good for the lost time. As they say, “Better late than never”. But that would need an extra effort to shake off the lethargy.