The bad and the ugly of Madhya Pradesh

DB Post 1 September 2018

NK SINGH

When Pramod Purohit, 61, went to the Narsinghpur collector’s office to complain about the horrible condition of road to his village, little did he know that his action would land him in jail. But that is what happened when the retired junior engineer of Indian Railways went to the weekly public hearing for grievance redressal organised by the collector.

The road leading to Purohit’s village, Khurpa, is in pathetic condition — notwithstanding CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s claim of MP’s roads being better than America’s. Purohit, as a concerned citizen, was trying to get it repaired for a long time.

He lodged a complaint with the CM’s helpline. The PWD summoned him, only to inform him later that they could not repair the road because it was under PM rural road scheme. But PMGSY also failed to repair the road.

Purohit decided to take his complaint to the district collector’s public hearing, called Jan Sunwai MP government’s much-touted good governance initiative, under which all senior officers are expected to be present in their office every Tuesday to solve citizens’ grievances.

Complainant sent to prison

But on Tuesday, August 21, Purohit had a chilling experience when he approached Narsinghpur collector Abhay Verma. He was asked to go to the PWD office. But no officer was present in the PWD office. He returned and informed the collector that no officer was present in the PWD office for public hearing.

The collector, who also enjoys the powers of district magistrate, lost his cool when Purohit continued speaking about the road’s bad condition. He asked the police to take him to the police station. “I apologised then and there if I had done something wrong,” recalls Purohit.

The police arrested him under section 151 Cr PC and presented him before the SDM, a subordinate of the collector. The SDM, who was not present in the office, ordered over phone that the accused should be sent to jail.

The shocking incident came to light after four days when the retired engineer was released from prison and the local media highlighted it. The 61-year-old wept like a child in front of TV cameras at the public humiliation and injustice that he had suffered. Section 151 of Cr PC empowers the police to arrest anyone without a warrant “to prevent the commission of cognizable offences”.

Power-drunk collector

The Act also specifies that no person can be detained under this preventive measure for more than 24 hours. However, says senior advocate Vivek Tankha, “the police often misuses the law by releasing a person from custody before the deadline and then detaining him again.”

The collector says that Purohit was drunk. “He was misbehaving with people, hurling abuses and creating a ruckus,” he said, defending his action. Surprisingly, both the police and the SDM failed to subject the accused to alcohol test.

Purohit swears that he has never touched alcohol in his life: “I am willing to undergo a DNA test for that.”He also says that the CCTV footage in the collector office, if scanned, will prove that he was neither drunk nor creating any ruckus. He lodged a complaint with the SP of the district against his wrongful detention. The SP handed over the inquiry to a SDOP. A junior officer like SDOP inquiring against the mighty collector!

The bet comment came from a former Secretary to Government of India, Dilip Chaudhary: “One is reminded of The Queen of Hearts, a fictional character from the book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll who is quick to state, ‘off with his head’. The collector deserves similarly.”

Citizens protest

Even as the Opposition is demanding Verma’s suspension and local citizens’ groups are taking out rallies and torchlight processions in Purohit’s support, Narsinghpur administration has responded by slapping cases against 50 protestors for disturbing peace. One presumes, they will also be arrested under 151 Cr PC!

The CM has ordered an inquiry into the incident. Taking suo moto notice, MP Human Rights Commission has also sought a report from the commissioner and IG of Jabalpur division. It has asked Narsinghpur collector and SP to preserve the CCTV footage of the Jan Sunwai.

Such incidents may be rare in MP, but it is not the first time that DMs posted in remote areas have been accused of such abuse of power.

The then Khargone collector Ashok Verma had last year publicly threatened to slap a villager who complained that the panchayat office remained closed most of the time. Verma shouted: “Do jhapad abhi denge, thik ho jaoge.” The police later arrested the villager and his friend for “disturbing peace” and sent them to prison under Section 151 of Cr PC.

The state traditionally enjoys reputation for a responsive administration. That is why such incidents are sad, and sickening.

DB Post 1 Sept 2918

One Reply to “The bad and the ugly of Madhya Pradesh”

  1. This is the hight of arrogance which should not be overlooked.A polite behaviour is expected from a civil survent who so ever he may be..

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