This story is a part of our series on policing and excesses in Hyderabad. Read all stories in the series here.
On the evening of November 12, a commotion ensued between police officials and Syed Habeeb, a local leader and AIMIM president of Laxmi Nagar in Hyderabad’s Asif Nagar police division. The conflict was over the Hyderabad West Zone police collecting Aadhaar card details from residents during a cordon and search operation. The panicked residents had called Habeeb.
The residents were wary about sharing sensitive information in the wake of the Union government proposing the controversial National Register of Citizens (NRC) and National Population Register (NPR). “These people live in slum settlements. Now that there is anxiety around the NRC, the residents panicked and called me. That’s when I intervened. I don’t know what is the purpose of collecting Aadhaar card details during the cordon and search,” Habeeb told TNM.
Video from yesterday's cordon search in laxmi nagar, where the local AIMIM leader opposed the police from collection of #Aadhaar details. Remember, Telangana Police in the past has asked @UIDAI to question citizenship status of 127 people in Hyderabad https://t.co/Bhp1Y20RbF pic.twitter.com/2HZFQPFQm9— Srinivas Kodali (@digitaldutta) November 13, 2021
This was the second instance after 2019 that a cordon and search was carried out in Laxmi Nagar. Cordon and search, a military tactic, is widely used by the Telangana police to seize stolen vehicles and illegal goods, and detain suspects. As part of the search, police teams cordon off an area and conduct searches in every house. This extreme measure has been dubbed as illegal and anti-poor by civil rights activists. Usually, the police target slum settlements in this operation.
“We’re totally willing to cooperate with the search, but collecting the unique ID seems wrong. I had previously raised the issue to the same Deputy Commissioner of Police, who had clarified that Aadhaar card details were not required. But this time yet again the police insisted on collecting it. This is causing anxiety among the residents who are afraid that the government is collecting the details to deprive them of their citizenship,” Habeeb said.
Habeeb said that he would encourage police vigilance that keeps criminal elements in check and increases safety in the locality. “But police should not ask for Aadhaar details. Let them seize vehicles without documents or detain suspects. We ourselves will hand them over to the law enforcement authorities, but harassing people is not right. The residents are being harassed only because they are living in slum settlements and do not have the means to fight against authorities.”
The cordon and search operation has drawn widespread flak as it authorises police personnel to barge into homes at night and conduct searches in an invasive manner.
SQ Masood, a civil rights activist, said, “These kinds of searches are absolutely illegal. The police do not have the authority to conduct blanket searches in 30-40 houses. Only with a warrant can they search a house or two based on credible evidence. But this is extraordinary.” Stating that these searches are anti-poor, he said, “The validity of such an operation would have been challenged if the police had conducted similar searches in posh apartments and localities. Just because these poor people do not have the power to speak against the police, they have been forced to put up with it.”
Masood has filed several Right to Information pleas over the years regarding this, and as per the response, the Hyderabad police conducted 41 cordon and search operations between 2015 and 2019 deploying over 5,000 personnel. Surprisingly, these searches resulted in only 25 cases being registered. Among them, the majority were cases of low significance such as food adulteration, objectionable ads of magic remedies, making atmosphere noxious and concealing presence.