When television channels broke the story on the Noida serial killings and asked me how the police went about investigating a macabre incident like this one involving mass murders, I could not hold back my shock and anxiety over the glaring apathy on the part of the local law enforcement authority, and the utter neglect of basic policing tenets.
Here was a case in which repeated complaints were made regarding children - mostly girls and young women, going missing from the same locality, a single slum adjoining a posh colony in Sector 31 of Noida in a span of 25 months - intriguingly not alarming enough to raise the antennae of the superintendent of police and the district magistrate! The prolonged failure to take cognizance of a definite pattern staring in their face needs explanation.
Parents of the victims, all from poor families, have alleged police were indifferent to their pleas for investigation. It has emerged now that there was gross laxity, negligence and failure on the part of the police who did not pay the desired attention to the repeated reports. Despite pleas from victim families, the follow up was lacking - even conceding it was technical surveillance of mobile phone records in one case that ultimately broke open the floodgates for skeletons to tumble out in mass numbers.
Uttar Pradesh Police chief Bua Singh was quick to admit police "laxity" over the serial killings and "negligence" on the part of his men without taking any personal responsibility. He ordered a high-level probe by an additional director-general. Suspensions and dismissals have since followed, which includes that of a former senior superintendent of police of the area, but not of the district magistrate.
Is this enough? In the face of people's growing anger and widespread condemnation of police inaction, the panic-stricken knee jerk steps on the part of the powers that be in the state are viewed as nothing short of cowardice - aimed at passing the buck.
The utter breakdown of law and order in Uttar Pradesh is common knowledge, with murders, extortion and kidnappings for ransom being the order of the day. The political leadership in the state has not effectively dispelled people's perception even in the recent kidnapping case of Anant Gupta, son of a multinational executive, that it was the ruling party politicians who mediated and carried the ransom money to secure the child's release. In the current episode, police leaderships from across the country, present and past, have unequivocally condemned the police handling of the missing reports in Noida.
With the policing years behind me, I am also of the belief that inquiry investigation into 'missing persons' rarely gets adequate attention of the police. It is the non- serious attitude of the police in missing children investigation that is at the core of this problem. Many state police departments may jump to decry my observation, and give lengthy explanations justifying action being taken on this score, but this is an area of policing that needs improvement.
Different states have different procedures and there is no coordination on this subject from central agencies, 'police' being a state subject. In states like Andhra Pradesh, an FIR (first information report) is recorded when a complaint of missing child is made. But in most states it is only a GD (general diary) entry, which should, in the normal course, trigger an enquiry into the missing report. A reason for lackadaisical police attention is because a 'missing report' does not constitute a cognizable crime for the police to record an FIR.
In Delhi this lacuna in law is overcome by a standing order, which makes it compulsory to register a kidnapping case when a minor remains missing beyond 24 hours after a report is recorded in the DD (daily diary). In Delhi again, all missing reports are transferred to the Missing Persons Squad in the Crime Branch for systematic centralized investigation and follow up.
Sending lookout notices to all police stations as well as publishing photographs and details in local visual and print media is the procedure all adopt. But this is done in such routine manner that it lacks seriousness the issue demands. There is need for a uniform policy for investigating cases of missing children and coordination between states to prevent incidents like the Noida killings. But chief ministers are united against police reforms ordered by the Supreme Court!
(Maxwell Pereira is a former joint commissioner of Delhi Police. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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