Former ‘supercop’ K.P.S. Gill was Punjab DGP in the late 1980s and early ’90s when pro-Khalistan militancy was at its height in the state. He’s also, controversially, credited with bringing it to an end. Gill talked to Mihir Srivastava about extra-judicial killings, the politician-police nexus, among other things. Excerpts from an interview:
Let’s start by talking about the state the Punjab police was in when you took over.
The police force was ill-equipped, ill-trained and frightened of the terrorists. Traffic would stop at 3 pm in the afternoon in some areas of the state. Even the judiciary was frightened, and justifiably so, as they didn’t have adequate security. It was a terrible situation.
What did you do to change it?
Well, I went to the police force arms store. An LMG (light machine gun) of WW-II vintage was lying sealed in the original packaging. It had never been used. A joint secretary from the Tripura cadre was opposed to allowing police the use of automatic weapons. There was a feeling the police would open fire on hostile crowd. I told them, “I will use it against terrorists.” They didn’t relent. “If you don’t give me the arms,” I told them, “I will get it from the smugglers.” They gave us the arms.
So you didn’t give them a choice. But at a psychological level, what made Punjab police a lethal force later?
First, I ensured the force started moving out in the night. All policemen were recruited to the armed constabulary and based on their performance they were assigned civil police jobs. Merit was encouraged, enforced. They soon became motivated. But now they have done away with the system. Now the SHO, SP, even the head of the police force is a political appointee.
“There were some incidents of fake encounters, we took departmental action. The officers were suspended or dismissed.”
So many police officers have been convicted for extra-judicial killings. Where’s the accountability?
It’s the human rights people who say that. I have no love lost for rights activists and Amnesty International. If they were fair and balanced, one could accept their views. But they are biased and support the terrorists.
The perception in Punjab is that the police is a draconian force. Some police officers are dreaded, take the example of S.S. Saini.
He’s a very good officer. It’s just that he wasn’t easily available (to the people).
We are a democracy, not a police state....
I support all democratic processes. I even opposed press censorship in Punjab when some IAS advisors to the governor (Punjab was under President’s rule at the time) were pressing for it, saying it would put a stop to all the rumours coming out.
What did you do when you knew your officers had killed innocent people?
There were some incidents when I was in Punjab. We took departmental actions against them—they were suspended or dismissed from the force. I was head of the police department, not the judiciary. I did what I could. I remember dismissing a police officer (for the same reasons). The Supreme Court upheld my decision but he was reinstated by the politicians later.
Are politicians to be blamed if the police abuses its power?
Today’s government wants ministers to be in charge of a district, even a police station. A minister should manage his department. There are many safeguards in the Police Act. They should be used. The new police acts came into force without conferring with the DGP. This will only hurt the force.
The politico-police nexus has fostered the illicit drug trade in Punjab?
Drugs are a worldwide problem. Take the incident in Haryana when a minister asked an SP to shut up and get out. They quarrelled and in the brouhaha the issue—the drug problem—was buried. The officer was transferred...and the minister managed to avoid the problem.
Khalistani sympathisers had to flee Punjab thanks to you. Many settled in the US, England.... There are fears about their growing clout.
Their Sarbat Khalsa was a miserable failure, (deputy CM Sukhbir) Badal called them “radicals and separatists”. They have no support. They fought the local polls and lost badly, even forfeiting their security.