A man with a mission Interview with Mr Praveen Sood, Mysore City Police Chief

Published : Our Karnataka

Ever since Mysore city came under the Commissionerate in the year 1989, many Police Commissioners have come and gone. Some served the city well. Some others just served their terms and left. The permanent residents of the city will certainly remember those Police Commissioners, who served the city well, leaving behind not only the memories of the good work but also the visible signs of their labour of love for the city. To name a few, H. R. Kasthurirangan, Kempaiah and C. Chandrashekhar. These three officers have left behind their indelible mark of service, each in his own way. If Kasthurirangan introduced new concepts like setting up of anti – rowdy squad and contained crime at a time when it was rising and seemed unstoppable, Kempaiah turned out to be a renaissance man of the Police Department having restored almost all the dilapidated Police Stations without sacrificing the heritage character of the buildings.

Till Kempaiah came here, believe it or not, the Police Commissioner did not have an office of his own and was functioning from a temporary premise on Lalitha Mahal Palace Road, in the office of the KSRP. Remember Police Bhavan? That is his brainchild. C. Chandrashekhar. Remember Helpline? It is his creation. Now, we have Praveen Sood as the Police Commissioner, a man from Himachal Pradesh. He seems to have grown as tall as the Himalayas in his profession.

Academically highly qualified with a B.Tech from IIT, Delhi, and an MBA from IIM, Bangalore, he is a performing IPS officer by all reckoning. Young in age (born 1964), he joined IPS in 1986 and has many years to go before he retires. From his track record, it is very clear that whatever he touches, he touches with commitment and he delivers. Therefore, it is not surprising he was decorated with the Chief Minister’s Gold Medal and also President’s Police Medal for meritorious service.

Sood is considered to be an expert on traffic management, though he had other areas of law and order under his responsibility. Before he took charge, Mysore Traffic was as chaotic as it could be. Within nine months of taking charge, he successfully transformed the haphazard and unregulated traffic of Mysore City. The result is there for all to see. The number of fatal accidents went down, over 20 junctions were improved and made less hazardous while an equal number of traffic signals were installed, road markings were painted on all major thoroughfares with over 3,000 traffic signs erected at bends and accident-prone areas.

He organised Road – Safety Awareness programmes for students and road users while conducting classes for drivers of heavy vehicles and autorickshaws to teach them traffic rules and good manners. Recognizing his service in the field of road traffic, he was presented, in the year 2006, Prince Michael International Road Safety Award. He strictly enforced the law relating to speeding with the help of Electronic Interceptors here in Mysore for the first time in the State. He also introduced a number of engineering innovations like shifting old bus-shelters located at wrong spots, making bus-bays etc. He is married to Vinita, a Post – Graduate in English literature. They are blessed with two daughters aged 14 and 8.

As the Police Commissioner, what are your achievements in maintaining law and order, traffic control and traffic-related offences?
It is not possible to elaborate except to say that there have been no serious incidents in the past one and half years. For example, during Dasara and Eid Meelad, processions were peaceful. Even the routine protests were peaceful. There was no communal strife. We took care to prevent these things. Though clashes occurred in other places over the issue of cartoons of Gods, nothing happened in Mysore. Regarding traffic, we focus on three aspects — engineering, enforcement and education.

With the co-operation of Mysore Urban Development Authority (MUDA) and Mysore City Corporation (MCC), roads were widened at important junctions like Dasappa Circle and MUDA Circle scientifically. But, now this co – operation has slackened due to some changes. We have another 20 projects regarding the works to be done to make the city roads safe if MUDA and MCC co – operate. Nearly 30 traffic lights were installed, which will be good enough for the next five years. We changed the 20 – year – old signal light (first – signal light in city) near BATA showroom on Sayyaji Rao Road. Blinkers are installed at 18 junctions where visibility is less.

PELICON lights were installed for the first time in city at the Palace Gate for the benefit of pedestrians. Only, people need to get used to it. We don’t enforce traffic rules with focus on the revenue. Enforcement is a process of education. We have collected Rs. 90 lakh by way of fines. It may cross Rs. 1 crore this year. Our own interceptor from Delhi is on its way, which will make our work easier. Our effort is to educate people on traffic rules through road shows and film shows on Sundays and holidays. We have conducted ‘Wheel Watch’ and programmes on traffic in about 40 educational institutions in city. Bus-bays were constructed at important places including Ballal and Ramaswamy Circles. Some bus – bays are 100 per cent successful. We have given instructions to enforce parking of buses only at the bus – bays.

Traffic Police were given new equipments including hands – off walkie – talkies, reflective rain coats, jackets, batons, gloves. Mounted Police manage traffic in the evenings all the 365 days in the heart of the city. Apart from these, we have conducted classes on traffic rules for teachers’ conclave, driving school instructors and unorganised heavy vehicle drivers. About 3,000 new signboards were installed in city. Also, 1,000 autorickshaws were provided free insurance and 1,000 auto – drivers were given free uniforms. For the benefit of commuters two pre-paid auto booths have been opened in city.

With ever – increasing number of tourists visiting city, what steps have you taken to make the city safe for them? There was once a proposal, during the regime of V. V. Bhaskar in 1991, to form a Tourist Police Squad. Also there was a plan to start a Graduates Police Station. Whatever happened to them?
Traffic Policemen are the best Tourist Police Force. We need extra men and funds to form a separate Tourist Police. Also we need Government sanction. I have no information regarding these two proposals of 1991.

There are complaints from residents of cat-burglary and house – breaking in residential layouts and their non – detection. What is the scenario?
The problem exists but not increasing alarmingly. There is an increase of only 10 per cent. Rate of detection has also increased.

There are many new and far – flung layouts that are vulnerable to burglaries and dacoity. What steps have been taken to provide security to these house owners?
With the increasing number of layouts, patrolling is a bit less as the Police force does not have adequate personnel. The last Police Station was sanctioned about seven years ago in Vijayanagar. We need two more, one in Bogadi and another in Alanahalli. It is not possible to provide security to individual houses in far – flung new layouts.

Chain – snatching has been a regular happening in city. Why are the Police unable to end this menace and enable women to walk without fear on roads? How many among the chain – snatchers were arrested and what is the number of convictions?
First, people should be careful. Women wear 45 to 50 grams of gold while going for a walk or to the market. We follow the proceedings in courts to ensure convictions and 17 out of 28 crimes were detected in 2004, 17 out of 27 in 2005 and two out of the nine this year so far.

There is a general complaint of corruption in every Police Station. In many cases, complaints are not registered or even inquired into (so that the accused could at least be warned) unless money is paid. Are you taking any steps to curb this attitude of officers and men in Police Stations?
I can take action against the corrupt if there are specific complaints. I will never tolerate corruption. I have asked the Lok Ayuktha to take independent action on such complaints.

Travelling in autorickshaws is a nightmare for non – local passengers with luggage, except when the trip originates from Railway Station and Suburban Bus Stand. In what way have you helped the commuters in this regard?
Normally some auto drivers harass passengers. But I feel it can be controlled if people co – operate with us. We have opened two pre – paid auto booths in city. The problem is, people are not willing to wait in the queue for a few minutes at these booths. The pre – paid auto booths will save them money and it is also safe as the autos’ registration numbers are recorded.

In the past, there used to be anti – rowdy squad etc., to target and tackle specific crime groups or individual criminals. Has the squad been disbanded? If so why?
It still exists and is functioning under a DCP at CCB Office.

There are complaints about catching vehicle drivers for over speeding with the electronic gun etc., on various entry roads to the city and levying spot fines or sending them to court. The complaint is that there are no proper signboards warning the drivers about speed limit and there is no way for the driver to know if he was actually driving fast except for what the Police say. Do you propose to restore public confidence in this regard? How?
There are about 40 new boards indicating speed limits. Drivers should know that the standard speed limit in city is 30 kms. But we allow speed upto 50 kms.

Is it true that many cases either traffic or otherwise, are booked for the purpose of monthly record, which is mandatory for your department? Why not all through the month, which will instill fear of law in the hearts of drivers?
This is a wrong notion. Traffic Police do their duty everyday except on holidays. We collect a sum of Rs. 40 to 50 thousand everyday as fines. We collect about Rs.8 to Rs.10 lakh as fine every month. [Relevant records were shown.]

A large number of drivers do not know rules of driving which lead to hardships to others and also accidents. RTO will be of no use in this regard as you know. But on the road it is your responsibility. How do you propose to solve this problem?
We know that there are drivers even without licence. Licensing authority is RTO. We can only train the drivers and sometimes punish by levying fines. Usually drivers are taught only the A – B – C of driving in driving schools: Accelerator (A), Brake (B) and Clutch (C). We try to educate them in all aspects of traffic rules.

While driving on highway, for changing lane, signal is given to the fast – moving vehicle at the rear to overtake by switching on the right indicator, which is usually used for turning right. What is the correct signal?
Switching on the right indicator to signal the vehicle coming from behind is wrong and dangerous. I don’t know, in some places all the four indicators are switched on. We have to find out about the correct signal from experts.

You had conducted a meeting of IT companies and travel operators soon after the murder of Pratibha, a software engineer in Bangalore to provide security to women employees in night shifts. Is there any follow up?
In Mysore the problem is not so serious. There are a total of 20 to 25 women employees who work in night shifts. The companies should take the responsibility of their women employees in and out of their premises.

You, along with your wife, are involved in de – addiction of Police personnel who are addicted to alcohol. How is the response?
Only one per cent of the 2,500 strong force is addicted. We need the support of their family and friends to tackle this problem. But, we succeeded in curing three chronic cases. One was even given a promotion and complaints against him were written off. He had changed to that extent. My wife Vinita as the counsellor played a big role. If we succeed in curing one, we have the satisfaction of saving a family.

It is a common complaint that Police spend most of their time escorting VVIPs visiting Mysore, neglecting maintenance of law and order. How do you overcome this problem?
Mysore is a world famous heritage city and it is inevitable that visiting VIPs need to be provided with security. As only the City Armed Reserve (CAR) force is used for the purpose, the question of the regular Police neglecting law and order doesn’t arise at all.

We have heard that the lone women’s Police Station at Lashkar is overburdened with cases, thus affecting its efficiency. What do you propose to do? 
It is true; we need more staff at the Women’s Police Station. At present, when we feel overburdened, we direct the litigants or complainants to Help – line. We register serious crimes like rape, murder and dowry harassment cases. We also take the help of other Police stations.

Finger print experts wing has been unsuccessful in detecting crimes, it is commonly alleged. What do you feel is the reason for this failure?
This information is wrong. Because of finger print experts we have solved 14 cases in the recent months. Finger Print Departments in the State are connected online now. It takes only 10 to 15 minutes to get a matching which otherwise used to take weeks earlier.

Do you think traffic Police Stations and personnel at present are adequate to meet the challenges of overgrowing vehicular traffic in city? How do you deal with this situation?
We need one more Traffic Police Station with staff. Now we have 280 men who work in three shifts covering 25 junctions out of the 80 in city. Traffic lights are installed at other junctions and there is no problem.

Time and again we hear the detection of flesh trade racket in posh localities. What measures have been taken either to bust these rackets or punish the guilty? What is the number of convictions?
Yes, we receive complaints of such incidents. But we mainly focus to control organised prostitution. We achieve 70 to 80 per cent success. Santro Ravi’s case is an example.

Bad road conditions and unscientific road humps play a major role in the number of fatalities in road mishaps. Have you interacted with the officers concerned to overcome this problem? Also the new types of road humps are getting loose, why?
Many road humps in the city are not needed. Most of them are put up because someone influential persuaded the authorities. If an accident takes place in some corner or on a stretch of road, a resident or a group of the residents persuade the area leaders or Corporators to get a road hump sanctioned. These humps are unscientific and dangerous. The modern road humps are getting loose because the metalling is not deep enough to hold the bolts. If we level the humps, the spot has to be metalled by MCC or MUDA. We are not able to do their work. As it is, we have done the painting at bus – bays, which was the Corporation’s work.

What steps were taken to check the menace of adulterated petrol? 
Adulteration dens are functioning all over the city in broad daylight under the very nose of Police. We can book cases and complain to the Food and Civil Supplies Department. Ultimately the power to stop it lies with that Department. We have given NOC to 2 gas filling stations.

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