There have been a few occasions for me to write about the unfortunate increase in the crime rate of Assam. Quite obviously, many of the crimes that are the outcomes of unemployment, environmental and familial aberrations that affect entire generations, addiction to drugs, alcoholism and lack of proper education are unlikely to be confined to just one State. Such crimes have a way of spreading right across geographical borders from one State to another. Not to speak of terrorist activities, in recent years, we have all witnessed the spread of drug addiction from Manipur to neighbouring States. The theft of cars and motorcycles also thrives on inter-State linkages. Considering all this, there should have been concerted efforts to ensure some kind of cooperation among neighbouring States of the Northeast and to make joint efforts to tackle crime for the greater good of all the States of this region. Unfortunately, such efforts have been lacking. In recent years, there seems to have been more of inter-State conflict rather than convergence on such matters.
Given such a scenario, it is indeed heartening to learn that the deputy commissioners and superintendents of police of the districts of Tinsukia and Dibrugarh met their counterparts of three districts of Arunachal Pradesh on Tuesday and decided to set up joint coordination committees to check insurgency and other related problems as well as crime in general along the inter-State border. We live in an age when militant moves directed at insurgency get initiated at the drop of a hat. When we stop to analyse the complexions of these so-called terrorist outfits that masquerade as insurgent groups, we begin to realize how many of them have really no cause at all to justify insurgency. Whether one is talking about the ULFA or terrorist outfits of North Cachar Hills district like the Black Widow (that has been liberally funded with Central grants for development from the exchequer for the purchase of firearms!) most of these so-called insurgents outfits have come up in order to be able to extort money by spreading fear with the use of firearms. Not a single one of the so-called insurgent organizations of Assam have done anything at all for the people they claim to represent. They have existed solely for the purpose of increasing the assets of the leaders and to enable them to live luxurious lives. Whether it is Rolex watches and apartments in Singapore and Kathmandu for one leader or five-star life-styles in Dhaka for some others, the focus has been on the creature comforts of the leaders themselves. And all so-called insurgent groups begin by claiming that what they are doing is for the people—including the shooting down of innocent children and women for the apparent crime of attending the Independence Day celebrations perhaps!
One of the foremost things that needs to be appreciated in any worthwhile collaboration between States aimed at tackling crime is that corrupt practices also constitute crime even though the tendency to regard corruption as being outside the ambit of crime is fast gaining ground within the government. But then the government itself is the most efficient breeding ground for corruption. As long as this attitude prevails, no worthwhile collaboration among States to tackle crime can have any hopes of success. It does not matter whether we are talking of so-called insurgency, terrorism, everyday extortions and abductions or the clandestine import of firearms to sustain crime. Most of such activities are sustained and encouraged only in corrupt regimes. There is undiluted corruption in the actions of the executives of the North Cachar Hills District Autonomous Council (NCHDAC) who siphoned out huge sums of money from the exchequer in order to assist an outfit like the Black Widow to buy arms! And ironically enough the person who extended ready help in such activities was R.H.Khan, then Deputy Director of the Social Welfare Department! This man, whose official income from salaries between 1996 and 2009 was just over Rs 26 lakh, had amassed assets worth over Rs 14 crore during that period according to a CBI report submitted to court! Quite obviously, Khan was doing more personal welfare and VIP welfare than social welfare.
It should be obvious from such examples that any joint inter-State initiatives to check crime must begin by looking at all of forms of corruption as criminal activity. Unless this happens, it would be extremely difficult to root out crime either within a single State or in the region. This fact of life will perhaps be better appreciated if we begin to look at some of the criminal acts around us that have been encouraged over the years through corrupt practices in government departments. For instance, most of the crimes in urban centres that are related excessive consumption of alcohol arise from the simple fact that officers of the Excise department have generally turned their backs on civilized and mandatory practices like having to close liquor shops and bars at stipulated hours. We have inter-State rackets in the sale of stolen cars in which some police officers and their progeny have been involved. We have instances of land grabbing in Guwahati actively aided and supported by police officers. There are even some reports of police officers being involved in the drug trade. And there has been no dearth of reported cases of former Army personnel being involved in drug trafficking.
Deputy commissioners and superintendents of police of the two aforesaid districts of Assam and their counterparts in Arunachal Pradesh deserve credit for initiating a process for dealing with crime in the two States with a collaborative approach. Even though their major concern will be insurgency and terrorism-related crimes, they will not be able to ignore other crimes and antisocial activities of a few generations suffering from unemployment, frustration and aspirations inflated beyond reasonable limits by television programmes and advertisements. They will also be dealing with crime encouraged by politicians and lawmakers who believe that they and their progeny are above the law. In such circumstances, the well-intentioned deputy commissioners and police superintendents will have to keep in mind the factors that have a bearing on all forms of crime. The first is that one cannot even begin to tackle crime without regarding corruption and corrupt practices as being the foremost among crimes. The second is that there can be no separate laws for lawmakers and for common citizens who alone are expected to abide by the law. In other words, the immunity from law that lawmakers, their families and cronies imagine that they enjoy cannot be allowed to come in the way of a just and proper enforcement of the law. Any inclination on the part of the deputy commissioners, superintendents of police and custodians of the law to exempt politicians, bureaucrats, judges, lawyers and police officers from the due process of law for crimes committed or laws broken will have an adverse effect on the entire population. It will then become impossible to enforce the law on anyone at all. Thirdly, there has to be a minimum time-frame within which a criminal will be tried and the judgement delivered. One of the reasons why more and more people are taking the law in their own hands is that they are well aware that trial and conviction will take years and any punishment that is due may come after many years or after the criminal is dead. What greater incentive for crime can one expect in any society? Closely associated with the law’s delay in India is a general tendency among judges and magistrates to avoid punishing criminals. There have been umpteen cases of ministers, politicians, bureaucrats and police officers going scot free even after committing heinous crimes. There are many in the country who believe that this leniency towards criminals and lawbreakers stems from the fear that if severe punishments are to be meted out some of it will also have to be given to the lawbreakers among our lawmakers. Unless the well-meaning deputy commissioners and police superintendents of our State can take a hard line on these weaknesses of the system itself, they will have an uphill task of accomplishing what they have in mind, namely, tackling crimes that have a way of spilling over State and district boundaries. In other words, therefore, the first crime they will have to tackle is corruption that has a way of letting off criminals very lightly and making lawmakers immune to the laws they make for others. If they can enforce the law without fear or favour—something that is getting to be increasingly difficult these days—they could well revolutionize the tackling of crime. If they cannot do this and must heed every telephone of political bosses to let off some criminal, then they will end up having a fancy committee in the name of tackling crime.