Singapore Proposes More Security in Little India

22-Jan-2014 Intellasia | Wall Street Journal | 6:00 AM Print This Post

Singapore’s government proposed to temporarily boost police powers in the city-state’s ethnic Indian district where foreign workers staged a riot last month in the worst outburst of public violence here in over 40 years.

Under a bill introduced in Parliament on Monday, police would receive “powers to continue to take calibrated measures to maintain public order and calm in Little India post-riot,” deputy prime minister and Home Affairs minister Teo Chee Hean told lawmakers.

The December 8 riot, involving hundreds of South Asian workers angered by a fatal road accident, stirred public debate over Singapore’s reliance on and treatment of low-skilled migrant workers, and has prompted authorities to stiffen policing in Little India and impose curbs on alcohol sales and consumption there.

The proposed law, if passed, would be valid for a year and “allow police and other agencies to enforce the alcohol restrictions and regulate the movement of persons,” Teo said.

The proposed law includes powers for police to strip-search people entering Little India for alcohol and weapons, exclude or ban people from entering the district for a time if they are deemed a possible threat to public order, and cancel or suspend licenses for businesses that flout restrictions on alcohol sales and consumption.

Police are already implementing some of these measures under existing public-order legislation, which authorities invoked in Little India after the riot, Home Affairs Ministry officials say. The proposed law has been crafted to give police more specific and targeted powers than current legislation, which provides very wide-ranging powers – including the imposition of curfews – that may not be suitable in the context of maintaining order in Little India, the officials say.

In his parliamentary remarks, Teo said the new law would give the Home Affairs Ministry time to prepare longer-term legislation that draws upon the findings and recommendations from an official inquiry into the riot, which are due in June. Lawmakers are expected to discuss the bill in February.

Authorities are also reviewing Singapore’s liquor licensing regime, and studying potential curbs on alcohol sales and consumption in areas beyond Little India, particularly in places where foreign workers congregate, Teo told Parliament. He declined to provide a specific timeline for the review.

Roughly 400 workers from South Asia were involved in the riot, which took place after an Indian national was crushed to death under a private bus driven by a Singaporean man, police said last month. Nearly 50 law-enforcement officers and first responders were hurt, while 30 vehicles – belonging to police, emergency-services and private owners – were damaged.

In the weeks since the riot, authorities have taken several steps to improve security in Little India, an ethnic enclave in eastern Singapore where South Asian expatriates and migrant workers typically gather in the thousands on weekends.

This includes curbs on the sales and consumption of alcohol in the area – including a limited ban on public drinking – effective on weekends, public holidays and holiday eves. More armed police and private-security officers are deployed there on weekends, while new surveillance cameras have been installed.

Officials and residents have credited the stiffened security for restoring calm to Little India, though some businesses have complained of reduced revenues. Labour activists, however, said the measures could deepen social fissures between citizens and the legions of low-wage foreign workers that underpin this Southeast Asian economy.

Tightly regulated Singapore, known for its safe streets and family friendly living, has long grappled with how to provide for its low-wage migrant workers, who have grown increasingly disquiet in recent years. Some have resorted to protests against what they see as exploitation by employers, including a rare and illegal strike in 2012 by about 170 bus drivers hired from China.

About 1.3 million foreigners, including nearly one million unskilled labourers who take up menial jobs usually shunned by citizens, work in this country of 5.4 million people. South Asian migrants, who number in the hundreds of thousands, dominate low-wage sectors like construction.

Prosecutors have charged 25 Indian nationals for rioting, while authorities have deported 57 foreign workers – 56 Indians and one Bangladeshi – over their roles in the violence.

All 25 accused, each facing up to seven years’ jail and caning if found guilty, have engaged lawyers. They remain in custody pending trial and couldn’t be reached for comment, though some have asserted their innocence in preliminary court hearings.


Category: Regional

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