With agencies like the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) and the police roping in volunteers to help them enforce rules, such as social distancing and curfew, residents are worried that it will lead to vigilantism. Three civic marshals were fired on June 15 after a video of them caning and punishing two people in K.R. Market, to enforce the lockdown, went viral.
An ex-serviceman and two NCC cadets – Deepak, Pavan and Dinesh Nayak – were posted at K.R. Market that has been sealed due to the pandemic. One of them recorded a video of his colleagues caning the two men. They were made to kneel and walk on their knees. The clip was uploaded on social media, as a sort of warning for violators, said officials.
“The video was brought to our notice. Upon inquiry, it has come to light that the two men had also manhandled marshals. Marshals are authorised to levy penalty, but not to enforce rules through other means. They should have informed the police. We fired them,” said Col. Rajbir Singh, Chief Marshal, BBMP. He added their mandate was very clear, and did not warrant them enforcing orders by force.
Similar instances of vigilantism had been reported during the first phase of the lockdown when the city police had informally roped in citizen volunteers to monitor barricades. The system is currently being formalised where volunteers will be known as civil police wardens.
In the initial period, there were several complaints against the high-handed behaviour by volunteers when they got into verbal altercations and abused citizens in the presence of police personnel. There were also complaints of communal prejudice where members of minority communities were blamed for the spread of the virus.
“The problem is that when we call for volunteers, the ones who usually join are political workers of the local councillor or MLAs,” said a senior police official. “This time, too, the people, who are keen to join, are no different,” he added.
Senior advocate B.T. Venkatesh said while the city appreciates the work the police are doing in a public health crisis and understands the need for volunteers, any excesses by ‘civil police wardens’ should not be allowed.
“Their role has to be clearly defined and restricted to only helping the police and not become enforcers themselves. They should not be armed with even lathis under any circumstances. They are neither authorised nor trained for the purpose,” he said, adding that vetting the credentials of those who volunteer was an important part of the process.
Police Commissioner Bhaskar Rao told The Hindu that the role of the wardens was clearly defined and restricted. “They will not be armed, and will only be deployed for soft duties, like paperwork, at help desks in police stations and at the barricades with police personnel. They will always be supervised by our personnel, and care will be taken to ensure there are no excesses,” he said.