Last week, the new Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan announced plans to “computerise police stations” in the federal capital to honour the PML-N’s election promises of pulling the country out of the morass the party says its rivals created.
That the party has returned to power a historic third time with a passion for e-governance is welcomed, but can the computerisation of police records and functions plan be considered the new, innovative policies the voters were expecting from the PML-N?
It sounded nothing more than old wine in new bottle to the sharp-eyed. “That old wine may enthrall connoisseurs but not those who live and suffer the real world,” said a citizen commenting on the minister’s announcement, recalling that the plan had been in the works for years.
What the minister introduced to the e-policing project launched for Islamabad on 18 December 2007 was the time limit of three months that he set for registering an e-FIR and creating a central data base of the city police.
The 2007 plan called for streamlining “all the data of all the police stations” under one command – to avoid tampering of the records - and for the senior police officers to access online.
At the end of a testing period, the entire record of the Islamabad police was supposed to be stored electronically.
But after six years, the project has not progressed beyond the computerisation of FIRs and individual police station’s daily diary called Roznamcha – not all of them, just those entries in Moharrirs’ handwriting which the senior officers found too difficult to read.
Otherwise, the FIRs, the Roznamchas and other police records continue to be registered in long hand.
Why? “Because it suits the vested interests of senior police officers and the authorities above them. It is easy to change or tamper handwritten entries,” according to lower rank police sources.
It is not uncommon to find the authenticity of police records challenged in court proceedings.
Last year, a group of men accused of gang raping a girl were pardoned by the victim after the police investigator and his supervising officers allegedly altered their findings under pressure.
Keeping manual record brings benefits in other ways too – like marking the attendance of policemen who are late in reporting or abstain altogether.
Similarly, the roster for assigning duties can easily be manipulated if maintained manually.
It is a different matter that computerisation won’t guarantee that such malpractices would vanish from the different kinds of record the police stations have to maintain. “It would still be possible for the really determined to change, say, a date. But attempts to delete an original entry from the database can be blocked,” police officers in the know say.
In all, a police station has to maintain 21 registers, for recording FIRs, the Roznamacha, standing orders, proclaimed offenders, history of proclaimed offenders, correspondence, character verification, finger prints and pending cases, sector book, surveillance of convicts, persons arrested, opinions of senior officers about subordinates, inspection visits, official property, licences and permits, case property, arms and ammunition kept by citizens, police gazette of crime detection, police rules, and secret information.
Which police officer would risk the hacking of the last?
At his Thursday’s news conference, Chaudhry Nisar also said that the National Data Registration Authority and the police would collect the details of domestic help employed by the Islamabad citizens. But that data was being collected for a decade.
Perhaps, the only change that the minister wants to bring is that instead of the employer going with the data to a police station, Nadra and police personnel come to the employer for the same.
Likewise, his order to the police to remove “unnecessary barricades” from the city streets was laughable as the capital police had already been at it for months and just 20 of the 74 barriers that once dotted the city are still there, maybe for the VIPs of the city like the minister himself.