Under the controversial ‘cordon and search operations’ (CASO), police teams target slum settlements and search every house.

Police conducting cordon and search in Hyderabad
news Cordon and Search Saturday, November 20, 2021 - 21:34

A fact-finding committee which visited the slum Hyderabad settlements – Chandraiah huts, Hanumanthu huts and Narsaiah huts located on the banks of the Musi river in Malakpet – on November 7, as part of their investigation to find out how the Hyderabad police have being carrying out the controversial ‘cordon and search operations’ (CASO), said that the police is invading the privacy of the residents. The committee said that the police had collected Aadhaar card details and mobile phone numbers of residents there.

In CASOs, as suggested in the name, police teams swoop on a locality, cordon off the area and search every house. The operation is usually conducted at night time. This extreme measure leads to stigmatising a locality as a “criminal area,” activists point out. 

Researcher with Free Software Movement of India, Srinivas Kodali, who has been objecting to these searches, alleged that the police are collecting the Aadhaar card details to conduct a 360-degree profile of the suspected persons. Kodali questioned the legal validity of such an exercise. 

The fact-finding committee comprised of activists Jyothi, Surya, Nikhat Fatima, Sajaya, Sujatha Surepally, S Q Masood, Kaneez Fathima and Bilal, and said in its report said that during the CASO on October 28, the police asked the residents to show their mobile phones, and asked the women if banned substances like ganja, gutkha, and illegal liquor were being sold in the locality. 

On October 28, at around 7.30 pm, 75 police persons had raided the premises looking for smuggled goods and to find if any illegal activity was going on in these slum settlements. At the time of the search, which the activists call “inhuman”, as it violates their privacy, only women were present as the men had not returned from work.  The police checked their vessels on the stove, rice containers, cupboards and clothes, apparently looking for ganja and other illegal substances, the report said.

While the police did not find any ganja or gutkha in the operation, they seized 82 vehicles and three autos as the owners did not have proper documents for the vehicles or had pending challans for traffic violations. 

The committee also visited Nawab Sahab Kunta and Teegal Kunta under the Falaknuma police station limits. The Hyderabad police had conducted CASOs in these areas on October 20. “The police checked for Aadhaar cards of every person in the house, and they were suspicious about the tenants living there. They started asking for more details like where they came from, since how many days they are here, who were the previous tenants before them,” the report said. 

At Nawab Sahab Kunta and Teegal Kunta too, the police had collected Aadhaar card details and mobile numbers, according to the committee. In a few cases the numbers were noted in a digital tablet brought by the police, the committee said. The police reportedly also used harsh language during this operation. Vehicles with irregular documents – 33 two-wheelers and one auto – were seized, and people with pending traffic challans were forced to clear them. The 150 police personnel involved in this operation also gave “mild warnings” to 11 rowdy sheeters in the area. 

The residents said when they approached the police to release their seized vehicles, the men in uniform allegedly demanded bribes, according to the committee. 

Assistant Commissioner of Police, Falaknuma, Md Majeed, justified the operations at Nawab Sahab Kunta and Teegal Kunta saying that some residents had asked the police to conduct CASO since some new people were moving around “suspiciously.” 

The other areas where CASO was conducted in the last two months are Yakutpura, Zeba Bagh Colony in Asif Nagar, Mangalhat, Chikkadpally, Chaderghat, Singareni Colony in Saidabad, Aram Ghar in Rajendra Nagar, Asad Baba Nagar and Bahadurpura. These searches done with the purported intent to curb the ganja menace yielded nothing significant. 

At Aram Ghar, RTC buses, vehicles and pedestrians were checked. In the operation, gutkha and ganja were seized from one auto, rolling papers were seized from pan shops, zarda and ganja were also seized from pan shops, the police said.

Legality of CASOs

The police are conducting these ethically questionable operations under section 94 of Code of Criminal Procedure, which authorises police to search a place suspected to contain stolen property, forged documents etc. “If a district magistrate, sub-divisional magistrate or magistrate of the first class, upon information and after such inquiry as he thinks necessary, has reason to believe that any place is used for the deposit or sale of stolen property, or for the deposit, sale or production of any objectionable article to which this section applies, or that any such objectionable article is deposited in any place, he may by warrant authorise any police officer above the rank of a constable,” the section states. 

However, according to the committee, there is no legal provision which empowers police to conduct blanket searches. “The police misused sections 93, 94, 97, 100, 102 and 103 of the CrPC while conducting these searches. The police have to get a warrant from the District Magistrate (Commissioner) before conducting the search in a particular place based on strong evidence. These provisions of CrPC do not give any powers to district magistrate to conduct blanket searches without any strong reasons and grounds.”

The Sections 165 and 166 CrPC are applicable in this instance, the committee said. According to section 165 CrPC, an officer who is conducting the search, has to write the grounds of his belief of suspicion, clearly specifying for what purpose the search is being carried out. According to section 166 of the CrPC, the officer carrying out the search should be accompanied by another officer from a different police station. 

The committee’s report pointed out that in the Supreme Court’s decision in State v Rehmancaseof 1960, the apex court laid down that, “As search is a process exceedingly arbitrary in character, stringent statutory conditions are imposed on the exercise of the power.” The committee further added, “In Hyderabad, cordon searches are unwarranted. They have been carried out with the intention to intimidate the vulnerable sections especially people of the minority community where we have observed verbal abuse has also taken place.”

“Cordon and search operations enable a range of human rights violations, including physical intimidation and assault, invasion of privacy, arbitrary and unlawful detention, collective punishment and destruction of private property,” the report said.

The activists have dubbed these searches as ‘anti-poor’ too. “The police have dared to barge in the homes of these people overlooking all norms only because of their social strata. They have intruded in the privacy and dignity of these people fully aware of the impunity of their actions.”

They pointed out that cases of drug consumption have been found in all classes but the pattern of raids, searches and nabbing culprits is done only from the lower socio-economic of the society. “It is clearly an infringement of violations of rights of the poor vulnerable marginalised section of the society,” the committee said.

The committee demanded the police to immediately stop these illegal searches. “No police officer in plain clothes should be part of any searches. Police should stop seizing any property including vehicles without written orders with appropriate reasons being disclosed for seizing the property.” 

They asked the police to stop checking mobile phones and collecting fingerprints during the checks, and not take photographs while conducting vehicle checks. “Police should stop immediately asking or taking Aadhaar card/number for any purpose. There are many people complaining that police are asking for Aadhaar cards when people approach the police station to lodge complaints as well as during cordon and searches,” the report said.

 Read our coverage of surveillance and CASOs in Telangana here

Become a TNM Member for just Rs 999!
You can also support us with a one-time payment.