LAHORE  - Since Chief Minister Mian Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif has been working as de-facto prime minister in his third term, the governance and law and order situation is worsening in the largest Punjab province with every passing day. Virtually, people of the province are left at the mercy of robbers and dacoits and with the sunset many parts of the Punjab appeared to be no-go areas for the public.

The corruption-riddled police in its annual report have confessed to the public that at least 100,000 armed robberies took place across the province in 2013. Gangsters robbed residences, shops, factories, looted families, motorists and even passersby and made off with cash, gold ornaments, and other valuables worth billions of rupees.

Police record reveals that at least 90,000 proclaimed offenders, who are wanted to the police in multiple killings, murders, kidnapping for ransom, and armed robberies, and other incidents of crimes are at large in the most populated province. As per police “Black Book,” at least 237 most-wanted criminals (MWC) are also yet to be arrested.

The data puts a question mark on the so-called police campaign launched against the most wanted criminals in the province last year. The police reported at least 98647 cases of crimes against property including 2768 cases of dacoity, 18289 cases of robbery, and 13928 cases of burglary besides 2120 theft cases in 2013.

In addition to armed robberies, at least 20677 vehicles had been stolen and 6441 vehicles were snatched at gunpoint by the bandits during the last one year from all over the province. Simply, it means that at least 76 vehicles either are snatched or stolen away from different parts of the province daily.

Out of total 27,118 vehicles stolen or snatched away from various parts of the province in 2013, the police recovered only 1266 vehicles and 5700 motorcycles. The police report also revealed that the law enforcing agency has declared at least 12000 cases of auto-lifting as untraceable. Similarly, at least 11000 cases of robberies were also declared as untraceable which means that these cases could only be solved only if a miracle would happen to help police trace criminals. More than four dozen persons including women were also murdered by dacoits on putting up resisting during robberies last year.

As a matter of fact, more than 300 robberies including house robberies are taking place every day in the province. But the police report only 25 percent of the total crimes incidents in order to maintain crime graph low. A police officer, on the condition of anonymity, said that the police deliberately hush up armed robberies which take place in the rural areas and small districts while the complainants are harassed when they approach the police stations for the registration of armed robberies. The police also reported 7003 incidents of cattle-theft in 2013.

The victims of armed robberies say the police are part of the problem. They also blame the mounting corruption in the police department behind the surge in crimes stating that robbers are often backed by officers as the cops get due share from the criminals involved in crimes against property.

In October, a criminal police constable was caught red-handed by the local residents while his three accomplices, also policemen, managed to escape after committing a road robbery in Multan. In Sahiwal district, fifteen robbers in police uniform robbed 11 jewellery shops of cash and gold and silver ornaments worth Rs60 million in gold Market, located in the main bazaar of Chichawatni in October last year.

In November 2012, dacoits clad in police uniforms stormed into a wedding party, held up the guests at gunpoint and snatched away cash, gold ornaments and other valuables worth Rs 2.6 million in the Lahore Factory Area police limits.

Though the police have set up pickets and check-points in every nook and corner of the big cities to check street scrims but the criminals and proclaimed offenders are freely roaming on the roads to commit crimes with impunity.

Some police officers were of the view that the police performance plummeted since Khan Baig took over as inspector general of the police (IGP) in Punjab. They argue that the police encounters with criminals dropped significantly in 2013 if compared to 2012. They say that more than 360 criminals had been killed in armed encounters in 2012 as compared to 253 criminals gunned down in 2013. The provincial police had launched an aggressive campaign against the hardened criminals in 2012.

As the law and order situation is deteriorating swiftly, the Punjab rulers must take concrete measures to provide protection to the lives and property of the citizens. The chief minister should also fulfill the long-awaited promise of police reforms to improve policing and to restore the confidence of the public. The police officers who failed to improve law and order in the province should also be taken to task.