How many goons are there in Kerala? This was a question which Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan was to answer in the State Assembly last week. He evaded it with a written reply saying information was being collected.
The day the question came up in the house the minister was in New Delhi to receive an award from a media company which had adjudged Kerala as the state with the best record in the maintenance of law and order.
As he was receiving the award, the Opposition was flaying the government alleging collapse of law and order in the state.
According to information provided by the government in the Assembly on another occasion, there are 374 goons in the state and 43 of them are in jails. Citing these figures in a newspaper article, Leader of the Opposition Oommen Chandy asked: are the remaining 331 goons the ones who were terrorising Kerala?
Oommen Chandy was the chief minister when the state promulgated an anti-goon ordinance for the first time in 2006. According to him, there were 817 persons from Thiruvananthapuram district, 433 from Kollam district and 428 from Kochi in the list of goons prepared at that time.
Joining issue with Oommen Chandy, Kodiyeri Balakrishnan asked why the United Democratic Front government had not arrested even one goon during the five years it was in power.
The exchanges between the two leaders made it clear that the difference between the UDF and the LDF was limited to the estimated number of goons. When it comes to action, both are equally unenthusiastic.
The UDF government, which enacted the anti-goon law at the fag end of its term, did not take action against any one under it. The LDF scrapped the law as soon as it came to power and brought in another.
According to Oommen Chandy, the law was changed to get supporters of the Communist Party of India-Marxist out of its ambit.
A redeeming feature of the LDF law is that it has limited the scope for misuse. Only the district magistrate is empowered to order detention under it. Under the UDF law, apart from the district magistrate, police officers authorised by the government for the purpose could also order detention.
The LDF law altered the definition of the goon. The term now applies only to persons found guilty by a court or by the police in three different cases based on private complaints. Since members of the public do not ordinarily have the courage to lodge complaints against criminals who enjoy political patronage most of the persons in the list of 2006 ceased to be goons.
In the newspaper article, Oommen Chandy accused the LDF of throwing the door open for political interference in the administration of the law. Under the UDF law, the detention orders were to be reviewed by a committee comprising three high court judges.
The LDF law provides for political nominees in the review committee. The committee constituted by the present government includes two persons who had contested the local bodies elections as CPI-M candidates.
In his response to Oommen Chandy’s charges, Kodiyeri Balakrishnan referred to the alleged links between some Congress leaders and the goons who were convicted in the sensational Kanichukulangara murder case.
He sought to contrast the LDF government’s record with that of the LDF government, which had arrested Santosh Madhavan on charges of rape and Omprakash and Rajesh on charges of concealment of evidence in the Paul M. George murder case.
He, of course, glossed over the fact that these dubious characters were arrested in the wake of a barrage of media reports alleging they were under the protection of political leaders.
The arguments and counter-arguments of the Home Minister and the Opposition leader over the law and order situation are devoid of merit as the state has received awards for good performance in this area under both LDF rule and UDF rule.
Kerala was first chosen for the law-and-order award early in this decade. When the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative organised an interaction between police personnel and human rights defenders at Thiruvananthapuram in 2003 an officer proudly cited this award as a testimonial for the state police.
CM Radhakrishnan Nair, an Indian Police Service officer who had served as Additional Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation, told him that the award only meant that Kerala was better off than Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, September 21, 2009.