New Delhi: Allegations of law and order deteriorating in Punjab are nothing but an attempt to “peddle falsehood for perception building” which is devoid of facts, state police chief Gaurav Yadav told ThePrint.
His remarks come in the backdrop of claims that law and order has been in shambles since the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) rode to power in the state. A 1992-batch IPS officer, Yadav was appointed acting director general of police (DGP) of Punjab on 4 July.
“The fact is that 1989-1990 was the worst year in Punjab as far as law and order is concerned. But now, that is not the case. We still have much less murders than Bihar. Punjab has the lowest figures. A lot of what we hear now about the deteriorating law and order in Punjab is merely perception building and not factual,” said DGP Yadav.
According to data available with the Punjab police, in 2021, 19 murders involving gangsters were reported in the state in the four months of March, April, May and June. In 2022, this figure was 20 during the same period.
While a total of 190 cases of murder were registered in the state between March and June last year, the corresponding number for the same four months stood at 200 this year.
Similarly, 63 cases of snatching were reported in Punjab in March, April, May and June this year, compared to 61 such cases reported in those four months in 2021.
There was, however, a dip in the number of cases registered by the state police under the Arms Act during these four months — from 67 in 2021 to 47 this year.
A little over two months after he assumed the office of chief minister, Bhagwant Mann’s AAP government faced acute criticism in May this year over its handling of the killing of artist Sidhu Moose Wala in broad daylight.
In addition to that, an RPG attack on the state police’s intelligence HQ in Mohali and the death of a Kabaddi player during a clash between two groups in Patiala, along with claims about the resurgence of radical elements in the state, reportedly contributed to the AAP’s defeat last month in the parliamentary bypoll for Sangrur, the seat vacated by CM Mann.
Jump in cases of extortion
Data available with the Punjab police further revealed that compared to four cases of extortion reported between March and June last year, a total of 20 such cases were registered during the same period this year.
Police, however, said most of those who made these extortion calls, claiming to be associates of gangsters – including Lawrence Bishnoi, key accused in the Moose Wala killing – were found to be “fake”.
DGP Yadav told ThePrint: “Soon after the murder of Sidhu Moose Wala, there was a sharp increase in threatening and extortion calls to people. Since the fear factor was high, these anti-social elements took advantage of it and started making calls claiming to be associated with gangs.”
“Even the small-time petty thieves started making extortion calls as gangsters. During investigation, however, over 70 – 80 per cent of these calls were found to be fake,” he added.
Punjab police have, over the last two months, busted several smaller gangs that were allegedly extorting money from businessmen by posing as members of the Lawrence Bishnoi-Goldy Brar gang.
To that effect, Ludhiana police in June arrested two men for allegedly duping residents from across Punjab to the tune of at least Rs 1 crore by making extortion calls, claiming to be aides of gangster Lawrence Bishnoi.
Instances of Sikh extremism
In view of recent incidents, including the RPG attack on the state police’s intelligence HQ in Mohali allegedly involving banned outfit Babbar Khalsa International, intelligence agencies believe that these incidents indicate a “revival of the Khalistani movement” in Punjab.
Data stemming from the state intelligence unit, however, does not point to any significant increase in cases of Sikh extremism.
This data, available with ThePrint, reveals that Punjab saw four such incidents between November 2021 and March 2022, when the Congress was in power in the state. In contrast, only one such incident was reported between March and July this year, after the AAP came to power.
Four incidents reported during November 2021 and March 2022 are: grenade attack at Crime Investigation Agency (CIA) office in Nawanshahr on November 7; grenade attack near Triveni Gate in Pathankot on November 21; killing of a Dera Sacha Sauda follower at Bhunder on December 3; a bomb blast at Ludhiana Court Complex on December 23.
Between November 2021 and March 2022, Punjab saw six incidents attributed to the call for a ‘Khalistan referendum’ issued by banned outfit Sikhs for Justice. However, 16 such incidents have already been reported in the state since the AAP came to power in March this year, data shows.
Data also shows that while two terror modules with ties to SFJ were busted in Punjab between November 2021 to March 2022, authorities have cracked down on three such modules between March and July this year.
‘Special focus on gangsters’ & PCOCA
Punjab DGP Gaurav Yadav told ThePrint that since taking over as chief of the state police, he has been focussing on the basics of policing in a bid to “strengthen it at the grassroots”.
“We are working on the basics to make the foundation strong. This includes grassroot policing like better patrolling, better police stations, so that the people have faith in the system,” he said, adding that the Punjab police are working extensively to “counter organised crime”.
“A new elite squad which we call the anti-gangster task force has been formed to deal with gangs, gangsters and the team is working tirelessly to bust networks, make arrests. In a very short time period, they have achieved great success,” DGP Yadav said.
According to police data, since its formation, the anti-gangster task force has arrested 196 individuals with alleged ties to gangs in addition to busting 44 modules and recovering 155 weapons in the process.
The AAP government is also in the process of bringing Punjab Control of Organised Crime Act (PCOCA) – along the lines of a similar law in Maharashtra, (MCOCA) – to crack down on organised crime, sources in Punjab Police told ThePrint on condition of anonymity.
The draft for this legislation is ready and has been cleared by the authorities, sources said, adding that it will likely be tabled in the next Parliament session.
Punjab Police believes a stringent law like the proposed PCOCA can rein in gangsters who intelligence agencies believe have links to drug peddlers and Khalistani terrorists.
Apart from furnishing grounds for detention without bail for up to one year for those found guilty of involvement in organised crime, the draft legislation also proposes that a confession statement made before a DIG-rank officer be considered admissible in court when PCOCA is invoked.
(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)