Jul-Sep 2011

A Simple Sentence: The Turnaround in Bihar

Abhayanand, Additional Director General of Police, Bihar, was at the Indian School of Business (ISB) to talk about the recent transformation in the northern state.

“If you can word your problem in a sentence, you can solve it.” With this simple idea, Abhayanand established the basis for change in the law and order landscape of Bihar.

The Bihar story began with the chief minister asking Abhayanand to solve the state’s lawlessness problem, since this was an election mandate. Three premises formed the building blocks of Abhayanand’s plan. He realised that all violent crimes were committed through firearms. That was his first premise. The second was that any criminal of “repute” had usually been booked under the Arms Act. The final premise was that the easiest way to convict criminals was by using the Arms Act against them, for being in possession of an illegal firearm.

Although the chief minister was willing to support Abhayanand with resources, he declined. He believed that the problem could be resolved without requiring myriad interventions.

“If there is an intractable problem, there has to be a very simple solution to it. When we break a problem into parts, we basically lose out on the linkages. If you can bring it all together and see it in its entirety, you will get an insight into the problem and see the simplicity of the solution,” articulated Abhayanand.

True to his theory, instead of devising complex plans to nab murderers and kidnappers, Abhayanand sent out one clear message, “You can carry a firearm, but if caught, we will convict you within 60 days.”

The police officer’s approach to implement his plan provides for a valuable lesson in managerial science. The clarity of his vision followed by close monitoring of the results, along with collaborations across board were the essential elements that ensured successful implementation of the programme. To illustrate this point, Abhayanand would call each of the 40 district Superintendents of Police (SPs) from 9pm to 12am every night, asking them for concrete numbers. This allowed him to keep tabs on the exact number of convictions.

Change was evident in Bihar: Conviction on illegal possession of firearms went up from 5,000 in the first year of implementation to 11,000 in just three years. Kidnapping cases fell by more than 90% in the last few years.

Abhayanand attributes the success of his endeavour to the cooperation he received from all the concerned parties, especially the judiciary, who helped by speeding up the trials. Once the convictions began in a speedy manner, people started believing in the plan, which helped broaden the force’s reach. The process has been self-motivating. Having experienced the freedom that law and order brings to their lives, people have begun to expect more from their lawmakers and enforcers. So, when asked if lawlessness could return to Bihar, Abhyanand stated simply, “It is up to the people.”

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