Sharad Mathur

Tipping Point Leader

Sharad Mathur

JK Tripathy


We read news reports of young IPS officers being murdered for vested interests which were getting hurt in the line of their duty. There are so many reports of them getting transferred and sent on punishment postings that they do not even register in our minds. It takes an attack of 26/11’s magnitude to wake the nation up to the fact that there were over 3,00,000 vacancies in the constabulary that needed to be filled. On the first anniversary of 2008 Mumbai attacks, the then home minister P Chidambaram had committed to providing ‘proper weapons, proper training, and proper uniforms’ to the policemen. Over half a decade later a lot remains to be desired when RK Raghavan, a former director of Central Bureau of Investigation and a veteran of the Indian Police Services, in one of his columns for the Frontline writes, ”The obstacles to honest, professional and efficient policing in the Indian context are enormous”.

In face of these obstacles some crack; a young police officer, an acquaintance of mine and alumnus of the prestigious REC Hamirpur, gave up in the first year of his deployment citing pressures – legitimate and otherwise – he was flooded with.  In spite of these obstacles, many outstanding police officers of Indian Police force are dedicatedly serving the nation and its one and a quarter billion people. One such officer is Jalad Kumar Tripathy, a recipient of the Prime Minister’s Award for Excellence in Public Administration in 2008.

Talking to him about his achievements, I could never, in a conversation spanning over one hour 30 minutes, sense even an inkling of hubris. I asked for the stories of his success and he made sure to also mention the one failure he had in Chennai where stones were pelted at the American consulate. I asked him what did ‘he’ do to earn the success and he made sure to tell me about how it was a collective effort that succeeded. I probed for a complex policing model and he left me with a simple policing philosophy that rests on two powerful ideas: serving the community and reforming the criminals.

Serving the Community: Case of Trichy Community Policing

Located 322 kilometres south of Chennai, the ancient city of Trichy (now called Tiruchirapalli) has a population of 7.5 lakh, constituted in equal parts with followers of three major religions — Hinduism, Islam and Christianity. This diversity, as many have experienced in the past, can cause severe headaches for the law enforcement agencies.

The year was 1999, the new Commissioner of Police, JK Tripathy, had just joined, and it could not have been a worse time for the new police chief to take over the reins of the city. Communal passions were flared up with the blood of a slain Hindu front leader, bombs were being planted in police establishments, and a senior police officer was attacked with a grenade. People’s confidence in the police force was depleting fast, which resulted in feeble community support for the policemen. It was the steepest challenge of JK Tripathy’s career and he lived up to it with dexterity.

All communally charged and other crimes are led by a few criminals who lurk amongst common people of their locality. The police normally finds it difficult to identify and nab them, partially because it fails to leverage the support of local community. Resorting to coercion to win that support in the long run has adverse results. In Tiruchirapally, the problem was that while the criminals, however bad, were still the part of the local community, the policemen were not. In response to that, JK Tripathy ushered in the philosophy of community policing which involved crime prevention with community support – community policing. The tool Tripathy chose to implement the idea of community policing was the Beat Officers system which had seen success in many parts of the world; most prominent one being Japanese Kōban, which is a small neighbourhood police building within the community.

Tiruchirapalli was divided into 57 beat zones, with an approximate population of 12,000 each. Each beat was manned by four constables who were to remain dedicated to their beat alone. They functioned from Police Assistance Centres (PACs), and not their respective police stations. These constables were called Beat Officers, and JK Tripathy by design, added the ‘officer’ tag to help empower them to take independent decisions. At the same time, he made it absolutely clear to them that they were to be first accountable to the community in their beat and set a high standard of service.

JK Tripathy tells us, “For the Beat Officer System to succeed, it was crucial to win the trust and goodwill of the community. In my previous assignments, I had learnt that the most effective way to do that is to first serve the community by solving civic issue. Yes, it is not technically policing work, but once you do that, you will get a no-holds-barred support from the people.” That is what his men did. The Beat Officers started with resolving civic issues. They got streetlights fixed, ensured drinking water supply was on time, and even went to the extent of calling a mechanic if a senior citizen or lady, alone at home, needed a one.

In addition, they regularly interacted with members of Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs), NGOs, Women’s Welfare Associations, local Chambers of Commerce, Taxi/Auto-rickshaw Drivers’ Associations, and responsible individuals from their beats like teachers, advocates etc. In these interactions, local issues were identified and their solutions were arrived at. Wherever the solutions required interventions of officers from different department/agency, Beat Officers used to go out of their way to invite them to facilitate an expedited resolution. They brought their services to the doorsteps of citizens and in doing so, succeeded in creating an atmosphere conducive for trust.

Beat Officers also visited each house in their beat and collected basic information like the names of inhabitants, their occupation, possession of vehicle, passport, licensed weapon, etc. These details were updated periodically and maintained in registers at beat level (they are now maintained in form of a computerised database at Police Control Room).

This continuous engagement of the Beat Officers with the community created such a comfort level, that they knew each other by first names. The Beat Officers were now able to have their ears on the ground; people in their beat were informing them about the troubles that were brewing and helped them nab the criminals responsible. The people were now enabled to voluntarily assist police in crime prevention and policing.

Describing the goodwill Beat Officers enjoyed, JK Tripathy says, “The first permanent structure for the Police Assistance Centre (PAC) was built at Alwarthope by the Muslim community. It was really gratifying for me because the community was initially suspicious of our attempts at flushing out some fundamentalists and had resisted our attempt to put up a thatched shed on the outskirts of this hamlet. The Beat Officers succeeded in gaining local Muslims’ trust by their support in rescuing people and property during a flood in the area.”

With the community support, JK Tripathy turned the situation on its head. The total number of crimes reported dropped from 11,289 in 1999, to 8,005 in the year 2000, which further dropped to 7,750 in the subsequent year. Police performance in crime detention rose from 78% in 1999 to 86% in the year 2000, and 95%. He ensured that communal tensions subsided considerably, regained public confidence in the law enforcement agency, and ushered an era of partnership and realisation of ‘Shared Responsibility’ between them.

In Tiruchirapalli, and in his later assignment as Police Commissioner of Chennai, he continued  improving the service quality his men provided to people in form of complaint/suggestion box system, helpline for women,  slum adoption programs with NGOs, and ‘Wide Area Networks’ which  used technology to solve the jurisdiction issues while lodging FIRs. He left behind systems so sustainable and robust that policing in Tiruchirapalli is stronger than ever, even today. His success story has inspired many other police officers in India and in neighbouring countries like Pakistan to implement their own version of community policing model that suits the reality of their jurisdiction. Such is the grain of transformational leadership that it sets in motion the wheel of advancement in everything it touches.

Reforming the Criminals – Case of Tamil Nadu Prisons

In the year 2012, according to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 385,135 prisoners lived in Indian prisons with an occupancy rate of over 112%! Although the Supreme Court of India has laid down clear guidelines for imprisonment and custody – prisoners are people, who are entitled to all human rights within the limitations of imprisonment, and aggravating their suffering cannot be justified; most prisons across the country are not a far cry from manmade hell. This is because prison authorities often fail to empathise with the inmates who are convicted criminals, 51% of whom are serving life terms for crimes as serious as murder.

With a strong belief in the theory of ‘circumstances push most criminals towards a life of crime’, when JK Tripathy moved to his current role as the Additional Director General of Police – Prison in the state of Tamil Nadu, his focus naturally was on reformation and rehabilitation,  not on retribution. He went about it in a twofold manner – improving the quality of life in prison and preparing for a life outside the prison.

To improve the quality of inmates’ life inside the jail, JK Tripathy introduced them to the world of yoga and meditation. Regular meditation classes began to be organised for them. In addition to these classes, regular counselling sessions for mentally disturbed prisoners also began to be organised in association with Banyan and Guild of Service (Central) Family Counselling Centre. Today, a diploma course in Value Education and Spirituality is also available for prisoners by Annamalai University, in collaboration with Brahma Kumaris. While meditation and counselling helped prisoner’s mental well-being, JK Tripathy concerned with their physical well-being provided them with two disposable shaving razors. Explaining the move, he said in an interview, “Currently prisoners are shaved by barbers with a traditional knife, which poses the risk of spreading contagious diseases (like AIDS). We want the prisoners to be safe from any such diseases. So, it has been decided to provide two disposable razors every month to prisoners.”  This was a big risk despite the checks put in place to prevent the razors from being used as weapons. But the responsibility of fulfilling the trust placed, even in inmates, is transformational.

To spread the light of education in prisons, in 2010, JK Tripathy helped open the Mahatma Gandhi Community College. The name of this community college is so apt given that Mahatma Gandhi had said, “The prisoners are wards of the State and not Slaves.” Approved by Tamil Nadu Open University, the community college has multiple campuses in nine central prisons, three special prisons for women and Borstal school, Pudukkottai. The inmates are provided elementary education through qualified Secondary Grade Teachers in the prison school. Those inmates who seek higher education can also enrol in distance education programmes conducted by various universities such as Manonmaniam Sundaranar University, Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), Madurai Kamaraj University, Bharathiar University and Bharathidasan University.

The focus of Mahatma Gandhi Community Colleges, however, has been on providing the prisoners with employable skills so that they remain productive in the prison and have a chance at a livelihood when they go out of it. The college offers vocational courses in four-wheeler mechanics, beauty and cosmetics, desktop publishing and electrical to name a few. These courses gained national headlines when one of the death row inmates, AG Perarivalan, bagged a gold medal by topping a diploma course examination conducted by the Tamil Nadu Open University.

With a penchant for involving civil society, JK Tripathy has roped in NGOs, teachers, local chambers of commerce, and other concerned citizens to leverage their support for improving the quality of life in prisons, as well as preparing for a life outside of prison. To conduct yoga and meditation classes, under his leadership, the prison authorities were able to get organisations like Isha Foundation Sahaja, Vipassana Meditation Maavuthan Seva Samithi, Brahma Kumaris, and Art of Living, on board. With support of various other NGOs, provision for non-formal adult education and computer training is also made available to the inmates. Civil society members also contribute to generate employment opportunities for the inmates on their release and help them remain engaged inside the prisons by conducting vocational training sessions and mobilising resources required to run them, for example, a mobile laboratory. Under the leadership of JK Tripathy, involving the civil society has become a norm in the prison administration in Tamil Nadu today.

A great example of it can be seen in the form of Freedom Fish Shop at Madurai Central Prison. Five inmates and one guard were trained in aquaculture by a retired fisheries inspector M Balasubramanian. They released 2,500 fingerlings of common carp and tilapia in a 72ft x 32ft cement tank in February 2014, and in eight months time they were ready for sale. Of the earnings from the fish sales, 80% goes to the prisoners’ welfare fund, and the government receives a royalty of 20%. These are indeed life changing experiences for the prisoners involved, for they not only acquire a skill, but also gain confidence in their chances at re-integrating with the society outside.

 “During the last Republic Day celebration in nine of our prisons, we invited 54 former inmates who have found self-employment post their release, to share their experience with prisoners. When you are in prison, it is easy for depression to set in. But it fills the hearts of my inmates with hope when they hear stories of former inmates who are now making an honest living as auto-rickshaw drivers, auto mechanics, mobile eatery owners, and even security guards.

Many former prisoners call to thank us for imparting vocational training which helped them shape a new future for themselves. It is the most rewarding feeling,” said JK Tripathy, on being asked about his measure for the effectiveness of these courses.

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