Cordon and search held in Warangal; now a pan Telangana operation

Hyderabad: The Warangal police on Sunday conducted a cordon and search at Narmetta Village on Saturday. Claiming that it was done for betterment of the community, the police said it interacted with the villagers, reportedly to discuss the use and benefits of CCTV cameras, use and sale of illegal drugs, traffic rules, ID liquor (Indian-made foreign liquor), etc.

This comes just days after the Hyderabad city police was criticized for conducting cordon and search operations in the city, which is a military counterinsurgency tactic used in certain areas to look for weapons or insurgents. It is one of the basic military operations used world wide.

When contacted, commissioner of Warangal police Tarun Joshi told that the cordon and search operations are community contact and public outreach programs done to create awareness about trends in crime, road safety, and discuss public issues, etc.

“These searches are done on a regular basis and at least 20 search operations take place in Warangal every month. We talk to people about crimes and frauds and inform them of government schemes for the aid of the public etc. During the outreach programs, we even conduct document verification of vehicles in the area,” Joshi clarified.

However, it may be noted that many, including activists, have come down heavily on the police for cordon and search operations. Concerned citizens are generally of the opinion this tactic essentially targets marginalised communities living in slums and poorer localities, where such operations are mostly done.

Independent researcher Srinivas Kodali, who is currently working on right to privacy issues of the public, said, “If it is an awareness program, it should be conducted by a ministry responsible for the said purpose. If it is a public outreach program why is it called a search? What are they searching for?”

Emphasizing the right of the public to know, Kodali also questioned if the police had the authority to conduct such searches in urban areas and if there was a manual for the standard operating procedure and code of conduct during operations. “Have the police been trained to conduct such operations? These operations are conducted only in areas like Jammu and Kashmir where there is a fear of militants and in areas where Naxalites prevail,” he pointed out.

‘Vulnerable groups, especially women, most affected due to cordon and searches’
A fact-finding committee that carried out extensive groundwork on this issue has found that vulnerable groups, especially women from lower caste and Muslim households, were most affected due to the city police’s controversial cordon and search operations.

A team of civil activists (most of who are from Hyderabad) released a fact-finding report last week on the perils of giving the city police a free hand with regards to cordon searches.

Discussing the slums located on the banks of Musi river and Golnaka bridge, the committee brought up the “problematic ways” in which the police stations of Amberpet, Malakpet and Saidabad were carrying out cordon searches.

Those were also conducted in the last two months at Yakutpura, Zeba bagh colony-Asif Nagar, Mangalhat, Chikkadpally, Chaderghat, Singareni colony-saidabad, Aram Ghar-Rajendra nagar, Asad Baba Nagar and Bahadurpura.

They committee took into account 236 huts which house 1500 people and noted that most of them migrated to Hyderabad for their livelihood around 40 years ago.

Further, the report mentioning that majority of the families living in the aforementioned areas belong to the Madiga caste or hail from Scheduled tribes, Muslim or mala families. They work as either daily wage workers, auto drivers, or small-scale businessmen.

The police have in the past argued that under the orders of the Telangana government and Director General of Police, cordon and searches were conducted.