Tenants unhappy with Chennai's new anti-crime drive

Last Updated: Wed, Mar 28, 2012 05:01 hrs

It's been a little over three weeks since J K Tripathy, Commissioner of Police, Chennai, announced the tenant enumeration drive in the city.

But with the police receiving only 24 per cent of the total forms issued by them by March 29, it is clear that Chennaiites have been hesitant in responding to the initiative, aimed at gathering basic data on tenants in the city.

The drive taken by the police to keep crime in check in Chennai has evoked mixed responses from residents, with some fearing that it could lead to misuse or harassment, and others accepting it as a reasonable security measure. 

But statistics point to a surprising detail. Many of the city's old and prosperous residential localities have shown a poor response to the drive.

Only a little over 10 per cent of forms issued were filled and returned to the police stations in Triplicane, while residential zones like Mylapore and Anna Nagar recorded over 16 per cent and 22 per cent respectively. 

The highest response has been from Washermenpet where over 50 per cent of forms issued were filled and returned by the residents.

Why has the response been so poor? 

Commissioner Tripathy had issued the order, under section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which requires landlords to furnish details of their tenants.

The details to be listed by tenants include their name, age, cell phone number, office address, details of their previous residence, a photograph of the tenant and an ID proof which could either be a PAN card or voter's ID or passport number. 

This data collection drive is already in place in Delhi and in many other foreign cities, but for Chennai, this is a first, and the city's residents seem hesitant to embracing the initiative.

The enumeration drive was announced on March 3, ten days after five suspected robbers in the two bank heists died in a late night encounter with the police in suburban Velachery.

Some residents say the announcement, which came right after this heavily debated incident, made it difficult for them to approach the tenants for the necessary details.

"I am a senior citizen, but my tenants are very young and I find it impossible to bring up such a subject, or ask them for their photographs to submit to the cops. What do you say if they turn around and ask if I think they are criminals?" said landlord N Devan. 

Other landlords said that only repeated reminders netted them the result.

But there have been quite a few prompt responses, especially from those who have travelled abroad.

Mythili Sriram lives in Mylapore and has a tenant in Virugambakkam. She says when she sent him the form, the tenant, unaware of such a drive, however, cooperated at once.

"I opted to fill the form as a responsible citizen. If the police has gone for such a drive, there must be convincing reasons. And it is very common in other cities and also abroad where there are stringent rules, she points out."

Even among those who comply there are some reservations.

S D Lawrence, a native of Madurai, but a resident of Chennai for many years, has just moved from the suburbs to a flat in the heart of the city. A frequent traveller, he readily furnished the details when his landlord approached him. However, he said: "There is a sense that the police seem to presume all tenants could indulge in anti social or criminal activities. Does this mean that those in own houses can't indulge in criminal activities?"

He also wondered as to how much interest there will be in updating the data when a tenant vacates. "If not done promptly, it could lead to harassment," he said.

Police officers however say that with growing instances of crime and population explosion, they are only trying to keep pace with the times we live in.

According to the 2011 population census, Chennai saw an additional three lakh people added to its list from the 2001 census, an indication of both longevity and an influx of migrant workers (across all  job strata).

Some among the legal community also still have reservations over the drive by the police.

Advocate N Radhakrishnan said under the Criminal Procedure Code no district magistrate or COP can order a person to disclose personal details.

"These details can be procured validly only by the census authority. The police has the power to seek such data only if there is a complaint against an individual. The order is without jurisdiction – the police can get information regarding a particular property, not individuals residing in a property," he argued.

Commissioner Tripathy however points out that the police is not out to harass anyone.

"We are not going to misuse any of the information. But in my opinion, crime control is a combined effort of both the law and order officials and the citizens. This drive is one of the many preventive steps taken by us to discourage criminals from misusing the city. We are serious not only about collection but also about keeping it updated as  and when tenants move out," he said.

Tripathy is also confident that the public will respond in full. "They are not so naive that they need to be educated on what is good for them and what concerns their safety,” he said.

A Subramani, an advocate turned media professional, felt Chennaiites take their time to respond to orders. 

"In my opinion, most of us are already sharing a lot of information and there is nothing wrong in the tenant enumeration drive, since it's for our safety. How many of us worry about privacy when we upload family pictures or our personal thoughts on Facebook? Or worry when there is a product promo with a prize thrown in, about sharing our address and phone numbers and PAN card details?" he asked.

Since there is no time limit set for landlords to furnish the details, experts say that this could be just another reason why Chennaiites have been slow in responding to the drive.

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