Home Secretary Promised to Help States Solve Police Suicide Problem, But Quietly Changed His Mind
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Home Secretary Promised to Help States Solve Police Suicide Problem, But Quietly Changed His Mind

Ppeople in power give assurances in Parliament under the public glare. In this series, Collective investigates what happened to those promises, because we promised our readers that we would hold those in power accountable.

New Delhi: In 2016, the then Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh stood in the Lok Sabha and admitted that the rising number of suicides among police personnel was alarming. The discussion in the Lok Sabha revealed that the lack of housing for police was a major reason for mental stress and suicides. Rajnath promised to look into it.

He said, “As far as police personnel are concerned, it is true that the standard of housing is not satisfactory. I believe that the standard of housing satisfaction needs to be improved and the Union Government is considering this issue very seriously.”

Home Secretary Promised to Help States Solve Police Suicide Problem, But Quietly Changed His Mind
The then Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s assurance to the Lok Sabha that the work on construction of police housing would be “very serious”. Source: 35th Report of the Committee on Government Assurances.

Did he keep his assurances to Parliament?

Our investigation has revealed that the Union Home Ministry quietly backtracked on a key promise made by then Home Minister Rajnath Singh to prevent suicides among police personnel, a sensitive national security issue. Over the years, the Narendra Modi government has continued to blame state governments for poor conditions in police housing, while withholding central funding for police housing.

While Parliament has a sophisticated process for holding the government to account for promises made in both houses, it has been a complete failure, as this investigative series shows.

The Home Office has not only successfully avoided parliamentary scrutiny for breaking a promise, it has also rejected all the recommendations of a key commission designed to help states provide better housing for police officers.

PROBLEM

Rajnath’s assurance came amid a heated discussion in the Lok Sabha on suicides among police personnel. Supriya Sule of the Nationalist Congress Party and Venkatesh Babu TG of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam asked the Union Home Ministry about the number of suicide cases reported and whether the government had investigated what caused police personnel to take their lives.

Figures released by the government showed that 614 police officers across the country committed suicide between 2012 and 2015. On the causes of suicides, the Home Office said the police were a state subject and therefore it was the duty of state governments to investigate the issue.

But the Union government has also not been a great employer for the personnel of the Central Armed Police Forces, which include the Border Security Force, Central Reserve Police Force, Assam Rifles and others, as well as the Delhi Police. Data shows that 365 personnel of the central units also committed suicide between 2013 and 2016. And the accommodation for the central police personnel was no better.

The Union Home Ministry added that it had shared advice with state governments on how to address the issue. Its suggestions included regulating working hours, setting up yoga and meditation centres to help police personnel de-stress. The evasive response signalled the government’s intention to avoid responsibility for providing concrete solutions and triggered a heated debate in the Lok Sabha.

The House Chairman asked BJP MP Satya Pal Singh, former Mumbai Police Commissioner, to participate in the discussion, saying his experience in policing would be valuable.

Singh noted that the biggest factor that he believed led to suicides in the force was the poor living and working conditions. He said that according to the police handbook, every police officer had to be provided with accommodation. However, the level of accommodation in individual states ranged from 30% to 50%, and in some it was less than 10%. This meant that across India, most police officers were deprived of government accommodation in connection with the job, which, Singh noted, required them to work up to 14 hours a day.

Singh asked the Union government if they could provide 100% housing to the states for police personnel. This crystallised the tone and content of the discussion.

ANSWER

In response, Rajnath told Parliament:

“As far as police personnel are concerned, it is true that the standard of housing is not satisfactory. I believe that the standard of housing satisfaction needs to be improved and the Union government is looking into this issue very seriously.”

This triggered a heated exchange of words between Congress MP Mallikarjun Kharge and Rajnath. Kharge pointed out that state governments had earlier received funds under the Union government’s Police Modernisation Programme to provide housing for state police personnel, which the Union government has now stopped.

Rajnath replied to Kharge that the Union government does not allocate funds to states for housing. However, he was quickly checked by one of his cabinet colleagues. Raj Kumar Singh, then a member of parliament and previously an officer of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), officially stated that the federal government previously provided funds to states for police housing but has discontinued that practice.

“I just want to clarify one thing. Housing was part of the police modernisation programme. Both the Union and state governments were providing funds for the purpose. Perhaps the Union government stopped it because it increased the share of central taxes owed to the states,” he said.

He added: “I am asking the Minister of Interior to reactivate the program,” he said, agreeing with the views of opposition MPs.

Government documents back up Singh’s claim. In the 2015-16 financial year, the Union Home Ministry effectively stopped funding state governments for housing and other construction projects for state police. Two years later, it began funding states that had experienced insurgencies. But the money spent on the entire police modernisation programme has declined year after year, even in those states.

Funds provided to States by the Union Government under the scheme “Assistance to States for Modernisation of Police”. Source: Union Ministry of Home Affairs Annual Report.

However, Rajnath’s assurance that he would take the issue “very seriously” meant that the federal government would now actively pursue the issue of accommodation of policemen across the country, covering both federal and state police forces.

When Parliament’s Government Assurances Committee – the accountability watchdog – asked the government to update it on progress in the case, the Home Office changed its mind.

On July 26, 2016, less than three months after Rajnath’s assurance in the Lok Sabha, the Union Home Ministry asked the commission to withdraw the assurance altogether. It argued that since police is a state subject under the Constitution, the housing shortage has to be looked into by state governments.

Ministers often make promises in the light of public scrutiny, but change their minds when they learn what the financial consequences of those promises will be.

To justify its reversal, the Union Home Ministry first suggested that Rajnath’s statement was not even an assurance. This was despite the use of a phrase that the Union Parliamentary Affairs Ministry considered an assurance.

The Union Home Ministry has come clean. It has said that it is “not feasible to fulfil the same (assurance).”

Four years have passed. The Union government has not acted on its assurance.