Cities in Uttar Pradesh may be topping the air pollution charts this season, but their police seem to have other priorities in mind. A tweet by a differently abled student to draw attention to an instance of stubble burning in his Bareilly neighbourhood backfired recently, with the local police inspector allegedly threatening to charge him under the National Security Act instead of acting on the complaint.
Irshad Khan, a differently abled first-year law student, had tweeted on November 9 about a farmer in his neighbourhood burning crop stubble from his field in violation of the law. The state police -- who boast of an active presence on social media -- did respond, but not in the way he expected.
In a two-minute audio clip released by Irshad Khan, police inspector Surendra Singh Pachauri is purportedly heard threatening to file a case against him for taking to Twitter on the issue. "How could you tweet without my permission? Come down to the police chowki and I will teach you the law," the voice on the other side says. "Tera dimaag kharab ho gaya hain kya (have you lost your mind)? Are you mentally sound? I will get a case filed against you and have you sent to jail."
The person on the tape seemed particularly annoyed about the law student raising such issues on social media. "Are you mad? Everything is being watched. Twitter is being watched. If there was something, you could have called me directly. Tujh jaise bahut ghoomte hain (many like you roam around this place)," he says.
At one time, the alleged police officer is even heard threatening to register cases against Irshad Khan under the National Security Act and Gangster Act for reporting the stubble-burning incident. The law student apologises through it all.
According to Irshad Khan, Inspector Pachauri then called him to the local police check post, where he was made to sit for around 90 minutes. "The chowki in-charge got all my tweets deleted during that period," he alleged.
In the face of mounting criticism, the Uttar Pradesh police responded -- ironically through Twitter -- by saying that an inquiry has been ordered against the inspector. But they also clarified that the instance of stubble burning had occurred on November 5, a day prior to the Supreme Court's criticism of the authorities' failure to curb such cases, while the tweet came four days later. A case of stubble burning has been registered against Irshad Khan's neighbour too, the tweet added.
On November 6, the Supreme Court had severely criticised top officials of the Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi governments for failing to prevent farmers from burning crop stubble -- a major cause of rising pollution in the National Capital Region and surrounding states. "The time has come to punish officials," it said, reprimanding them for blaming farmers instead of coming up with a strategy to curb stubble burning.
The top court also ordered Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana to provide financial assistance to the tune of Rs 100 per quintal to small and marginal rice farmers, so they could explore other ways of getting rid of stubble. "You want poor farmers to be punished. Punishing farmers is not the solution," it said.