The NewsMonday, March 29, 2010
By Shehzad Roy
At 10 o’clock one morning, I received a phone call from a friend of mine, who narrated to me an encounter that he had just had with the police.
“This morning I was driving on the wrong side of the road and a police car came behind me and made me pull over,” he said. “Fully expecting him to ask for a bribe, I was completely taken aback when he politely asked me to reverse back and drive on the other side,” he continued
“I told him that, instead of reversing, I would go onto the other side through the next cut. He asked me for my licence, I showed him my valid licence, after which, with a tone of authority, he told me to reverse and go back, and not to do it again.”
My friend said that he was taken aback by the policeman’s confidence and authority, so he asked him which police station he belonged to.
“Darakshan Thana,” replied the policeman.
So my friend, intrigued, reversed his car, as per the policeman’s instructions, and decided to visit this station.
“For a few minutes I was completely stunned,” he said to me, “I had pulled up in front of a building that looked like a corporate office! I went inside and I could not believe...”
At this point, I interrupted him.
“Do you remember that I had called you six months ago about a gentleman, Sami Mustafa (principal of a private school), who wanted to turn around a police station and he was looking for funds, friends and community involvement to do it?” I asked.
At the time, I reminded him, he told me that even though Sami had quite successfully turned around a government school, a police station was a different story and virtually impossible. Even if this police station is reformed by some miracle, my friend had said, the policemen’s attitude would never change.
The station that my friend had visited was indeed Darakshan station, located in the Defence Housing Authority. Back in April-May 2009, when the project to revamp the station first began, Darakshan PS had a typical look about it. High walls, steel bars, a bit like a dungeon, neglected, and in disrepair.
Sami and his group of friends raised some Rs4.2 million, and then hired a young architect, Ali Alam, to change the dungeon-like building into what it is today - which, as my friend would put it, now looks like a “corporate office.”
Interestingly, the electricity of the station came via an illegal electricity connection (kunda), which would often not provide the police station power when there was no electricity in the area. Apparently, the police tell us, most (if not all) of the police stations run on illegal, the all-too-well-known ‘kunda’ system. The upholders of the law were, by virtue of using a kunda, breaking the law themselves.
So the revamping process also included the installation of a generator – meaning the problem of darkness and illegality were both solved.
The renovation of the building saw the fortress like walls gone. Today, a lovely paved garden at the entrance welcomes a visitor to the police station. The SHO has an office few corporate executives can dream of. There is an air-conditioned conference room where police personnel receive their training briefs, and where the residents meet regularly to attend to the various issues facing the residents and the police station. The lock-up rooms have been renovated with bunk-beds and functioning toilets. A cafeteria has been established where police personnel may now have breakfast, lunch and dinner at subsidized rates. Toilets have been fixed, cameras have been placed, and a proper (albeit temporary) parking space for more than hundred cars has been established.
The revamping process entailed more than infrastructural improvement. The next step was to establish some standard operating procedures for the police personnel, which involved everything from banning pan chewing and cigarette smoking on the premises to organizing office facilities and implementing procedures.
A very important part of the reformation has been its successful School Traffic Management Programme. In the vicinity of the police station, there are seven schools which means managing over 600-700 cars in the morning and in the afternoon at recess. The law is enforced strictly and erring motorists are brought to the police station to warn them to be careful in the future.
The residents now have a registered trust, the Police Reform Initiative (PRI) through which they raise funds for running the police station. PRI meets every Saturday at 5 in the conference room of the police station, carefully recording the procedures and reviewing the performance of the police. The three tasks given to the police officers are: (1) Removing beggars from the entire DHA area; (2) removing people traveling dangerously on bus roof-tops; and (3) to stop harassing young couples and poor motor-cyclists.
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