Reform in Uniform – Interview with R Nataraj, IPS

R. Nataraj, Director General of Police, Fire and Rescue Services, has used his position in several police departments to bring about innovative schemes and attitudinal changes in the police force. As the Director of Fire Services, the IPS officer has utilized the fire brigade to render social service.

In an exclusive interview with Marie Banu, Nataraj shares his experiences and challenges in his career.

What inspired you to become a police officer?

India faced wars in 1962, 1965, and 1971. These ten years were very difficult for the country and there were a lot of expectations from the army. The uniform became a big attraction for the youngsters and a lot of stories were being published about heroic army men. I had a fascination for the uniform and joined the Auxiliary Cadet Code during my school days and later joined the NCC while at college. After graduation, I cleared the Civil Service examination and was selected for the Indian Police Service.

I am the first-generation police officer in my family. Most of my relatives are employed in government services, mostly in the teaching. My father being a government servant himself advised me to join duties as a police officer

If not the police, which profession would you have chosen?

Being a graduate in physics, I would have joined Baba Atomic Research Centre when they were recruiting technical officers. I also like to teach. Even now I address college students on public administration and human rights. Teaching gives you a compulsory opportunity to read and update your knowledge. It is only when you start teaching, you will come to know that you need to understand and reflect on the subject.

You have introduced innovative policies in the fire services as well as in the prisons. Where do you derive the inspiration from?

I truly believe that being a public servant, service should be the focus. The general attitude of a government servant is to continue with the existing arrangement as there is a comfort of job security. You should keep reinventing yourself. I believe in zero budgeting—to start from scratch. I do not criticize what has gone wrong but consolidate and bring in my own ideas to do something new. This is what I did in whichever position I was, and it has been profusely satisfying.

What was the reaction of the inmates when the bakery unit was launched at Puzhal prison? Who consumes these products?

Initially, they thought that working in a bakery was one of the other tasks that they need to do as part of their imprisonment. I explained to them the multiple benefits of this scheme and that, if they were skilled, they could seek immediate employment when released from prison.

In Tihar Jail, the products made by the inmates from consumables to the furniture were branded as ‘Tihar Haat’. The chairs that were made by Tihar inmates were used by Supreme Court judges. Likewise, the products that were made in Puzhal prison were branded as ‘Freedom’. 

The bakery unit started as a charity along with Give life Foundation, an NGO. The bread is donated toThe Banyan, a home for mentally challenged destitute women, and the buns and pastries are fed to poor children. We had initially trained 20 inmates and later provided training to more persons.

What has been the impact of the ‘Friends of the Police’ movement?

‘Friends of Police’ is a very old concept which was started by the British in 1936 as a Village Vigilance Committee. The village elders were committee members and they used to conduct meetings once in a month. They also organized police-public sports functions.

‘Friends of Police’ is another form of cooperation between the public and police. If the Sub-Inspector of Police maintains a good relationship with the community, he will have their support when there is a problem. Enforcement of law against bootleggers is a challenge as the police are subject to pressures from politicians and succumb to corruption. In such cases, neighborhood policing is effective.

Was it easy to work with the tribals to nab the Veerapan gang in 2001? How did you gain their confidence?

I learnt that the tribals were angry with the Special Task Force personnel because they disturbed their daily routine. People found the police and the Veerapan gang a nuisance. I directed the STF officers to go to the villages and understand the problems that the tribals faced, and advised them not to ask for any information about Veerapan. Health and education were identified to be the key areas that needed support. The STF personnel were asked to teach the children, and health camps were organized. 

These initiatives created a lot of enthusiasm amongst the tribals. Hospitals like CMC Vellore and Apollo extended their services to the tribal areas. The police personnel had an attitudinal change after working with the tribals. In a week’s time, the tribals voluntarily started to give us information about Veerapan. We sanitized the entire area from naxalites and the tribals were exempted from paying a price for the forest produce they collected. This proactive role had a good impact. All those who criticized the role of STF became our supporters.

Our city is filled with crimes. What are the most important issues in our society today that a citizen should be conscious of?

One should have security consciousness and this is lacking in our society today. If you see an adult walking on the road, you will invariably notice that in nine out of ten cases their child will be on the vehicle side. We do not check if we have closed all the doors and windows before we go to sleep, do not switch off electrical equipment after use, and we fail to be cautious when there is a gas leak in the kitchen.

We should be aware about cyber crimes. Many frauds are taking place through social networking sites and only a few people register a complaint. In many cases undesirable elements network through the internet. They use steganography—the art and science of writing hidden messages—while networking. One has to be very careful when disclosing one’s identity as identity theft is prevalent today.

For policemen there is a need to do visible policing. The images in the camera that are kept in public places need to be monitored regularly. In London, although there are 10,000 cameras, all of them are monitored regularly. This helps in preventing crimes.