Interview: Aggressive patrolling, 38 K cameras to keep a vigil on temples in AP

By Coreena Suares  Published on  6 Jan 2021 8:00 AM GMT
Interview: Aggressive patrolling, 38 K cameras to keep a vigil on temples in AP

Andhra Pradesh police have sounded a high alert following the increase in temple desecration incidents. Around 59 fresh incidents have been reported in the state. Feeling the heat, the Chief Minister has directed cops to take stern action against the culprits.

The recent attack on Ramatheertham temple proved to be the last nail in the coffin with main opposition TDP and BJP going with all guns blazing against the YS Jagan Mohan Reddy led YSRCP government. Even as we talk the state is witnessing a protest 'Dharma Yatra' called by the BJP party against the vandalisation at Ramatheertham temple.

The focus has now shifted on the police to expose the conspiracy and unravel the truth. NewsMeter (NM) spoke to AP Director General of Police (DGP) Damodar Gautam Sawang about the investigation. Excerpts:

Why is AP witnessing an increasing number of temple attacks in the current dispensation?

Temple desecration were reported earlier, however, of a different pattern. The accused were classified as temple offenders or antique hunters. The motive of such offences was usually to uproot the temple deity in order to find treasure. There were arrested in attack on temple hundi theft. These treasure hunters were of the belief that valuables are buried under the temple deity. Case studies found that they either uproot or break the idol for jewelry. Many cases remained unattended and the victims did not report to the police.

However, the pattern has changed in the recent. The intention appears to be more to damage the idol and create tension in the state. The state has been witnessing a rising number of incidents and it cannot be a coincidence. Let me give some figures, in 2020, about 228 cases of attacks on temples were registered in Andhra Pradesh. Where as 305 cases in 2019, 267 in 2018, 318 in 2017, 332 in 2016 and 290 in 2015. The number would be relatively high if the unreported cases were taken into consideration.

The first major incident occurred when the chariot of Sri Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy Temple was burnt. What action has been taken?

The government has written to the centre for the CBI probe. However, four months on, the central agency has not taken up the probe. An investigation by the a third party will not only expose the facts but also shows the government's stance in ensuring justice is done.

What steps has Andhra Pradesh police taken to prevent vandalism?

Between September and December, as part of a special drive the police department completed a security audit and Geo-tagged as many as 57,548 places of worship especially temples. Around 13169 CCTV have been installed at 3618 temples. In addition, police identified another 7978 location and installed 25,783 cameras.

All these places have been mapped and geo-tagged. However, there are small temples (those on the highways, isolated areas, with no compound wall) that were neglected. Teams have found that no one takes responsibility for their maintenance. In such cases, special teams have asked them to step up patrolling.

What has the investigation into the Ramatheertham temple incident led to? What measures are being taken to avoid such attacks?

The case has been shifted to the Crime Investigation Department (CID) and the probe is on. Teams observed that the culprits had full knowledge of the temple and its surroundings. Miscreants beheaded Lord Rama's idol on December 29 by climbing the hill. The Head of the idol and the Hacksaw Blade used for the crime were found in a pond adjacent to the structure.

It is pertinent to note that the AP police conducted an audit of Ramatheertham temple three months ago when only 16 cameras were installed. In addition, another 16 more cameras were installed recently at the instance of police in the main temple. The place of worship where the crime took place is on a hillock and located 500 meters away from the main temple. The ground inspection found that it was a neglected structure without electricity. Nevertheless, the police decided to install CCTV. The police installed wires three days before the incident happened.

Have police made any arrests in the temple vandalism cases? And what is the punishment?

Previously there were 160 cases. Now 59 more cases have been registered. In nine districts of Andhra Pradesh, cases against temple offenders have been registered. Police have also rounded up political suspects for questioning. In total, 2923 accused have been identified.

A high alert has been sounded in the state. Police will conduct an aggressive mapping drive, security audit, and step up patrolling around places of worship especially temples. The management of temples and endowment department are being directed to coordinate with the police. Besides, immediate neighbors, locals, villages, or colonies in which temples are located, are asked to maintain a vigil. Police have roped in members of Grama Rakshaka Dalams, to take care of shrines. Dial 100 in case of an attack on worship place.

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