Powers that won’t let the police be

Institutions of governance like the judiciary, the bureaucracy, the police and the Army created during the British era stood by us through the very unsettled first decade and more after Independence. The fact that we had dedicated and incorruptible political leaders at the helm brought up on Gandhian values, ensured the success of governance in our country in those critical years. Today, with our political leadership displaying total lack of values, dedication and integrity, these instruments of governance are collapsing.
Our political leaders in the ’50s and ’60s scrupulously avoided interfering in the internal functioning of the police. Investigation of cases was left entirely to the police and promotions and transfers of police officers recommended by the police chief were hardly ever interfered with. In 1930, Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant was leading a non-violent procession in Lucknow which was lathicharged. A sub-inspector hit him on the neck. One of his nerves got permanently damaged as a result of which his head used to shake for the rest of his life. In 1946, the sub-inspector was up for promotion to the post of deputy superintendent of police (DSP). Pant was reminded that he had been hit by that officer in 1930. Pant replied that he was only doing his duty and approved his promotion.
Today, our political leaders not only want the police to do their dirty work but also get them to collect money for them. Three recent incidents indicate how our political masters function in relation to the police. In Jammu and Kashmir, when a traffic policeman gave a signal to the convoy of a minister to stop, his police escort in his presence mercilessly beat up the traffic policeman who had to be hospitalised. Recently, the chief minister of West Bengal rushed into a police station in Kolkata, admonished the police for arresting some of her party cadres and had them released immediately. The textile minister in Uttar Pradesh is on record saying, publicly, “No cop can do anything till I give orders. No cop can sit till I give orders. If cop does not listen to me, he has no right for even a minute to sit on the chair, he will be sacked within 24 hours.”
The National Police Commission made many important recommendations, like setting up a Security Commission for transparency in appointment of police chiefs in states, security of tenure for police officers and so on. All this was anathema to all political parties, without exception. These important recommendations have been put in cold storage despite the directions of the Supreme Court. Chief ministers treat directors-general of police and other police officers in their states like monarchs in feudal days, decreeing, “Off with his head”. At the Centre, the Intelligence Bureau furthers the interests of the ruling party and the Central Bureau of Investigation has been reduced to being a “caged parrot.”
Lord Cornwallis enacted the 1861 Police Act, organising the police in India and giving it a civilian face. The district magistrate was made responsible for law and order of a district and the thanedars reported directly to him. Later, the post of superintendent of police (SP) was introduced, initially held by captains on deputation from the Army. Towards the end of the 19th century, the Indian (Imperial) Police cadre was formed with direct recruits and Army officers on permanent deputation. Till 1920, the police chiefs of provinces were ICS officers. Afterwards, police officers started being appointed inspector general (IG) police of a province. There were about 15 armed police battalions, including Central paramilitary battalions, in 1947. With this predominantly civilian force, the British maintained law and order effectively in the country.
I recall that as a young Army officer posted in New Delhi in 1946, we could sleep peacefully at night on the lawns in our bungalows. Delhi then had less than 1,000 policemen under a senior superintendent of police (SSP). Today we have a force of 90,000 policemen (of which one-third is deployed on VIP security) under a three-star rank commissioner of police, the largest metropolitan police force in the world. Yet, life has become so unsafe.
After Independence, the colonial mindset of the police was not changed to make it people- friendly. Their oppressive and rude attitude towards the common man continued. From the lathicharge on sleeping citizens at Baba Ramdev’s rally that resulted in the death of one woman, to the insensitive and ham-handed manner in which the agitators of the most barbarous gangrape of December 16, 2012, were dealt with, followed by a deputy commissioner police slapping a girl protesting the dastardly gangrape of a five-year-old girl even as the police offered a `2,000 bribe to the girl’s father to hush up the case, the image of Delhi Police is in the dumps. Its slogan, “Delhi Police With You, For You, Always”, has been reduced to a cruel joke.
The militarisation of the police, with senior police officers acquiring military trappings like georgette patches, bands in headgear, car flags, star plates and red beacon lights on their car, which they never had before 1947, has not had a healthy effect.
That there has been a phenomenal increase in armed police battalions from about 20 to nearly 1,000 is another aspect of militarisation. Concurrently, there has been total neglect of the police station, which is the core of any police administration. There were some 1,200 police stations in the country in 1947. Their number has increased to less than double though problems of policing has increased manifold and the population has increased four times.
Most police stations lack the wherewithal to function and the old close supervision of police stations has been virtually abandoned.
Yet another development adversely affecting the functioning of the police is its extremely top-heavy set-up. Instead of one IG in charge of the police force in a province we have now nearly a hundred DGs, additional DGs and IGs in major states. In a light hearted vein it is said that Uttar Pradesh has a DG for redrafting Volume 1 of the Police Manual and another for Volume 2. Another organisational monstrosity is the introduction of an unnecessary level of police functioning, IG Zone above deputy inspector general of police (DIG) range. There is no need to have supervisors supervising other supervisors. Today the police in India is the most top-heavy police set-up of the world. Such runaway proliferation of ranks with all the attendant staff only adds to unnecessary flab and wastes public funds. We need to drastically reduce the number of appointments in the rank of IG and above, and the number of armed police battalions. The funds so saved should be used to double if not treble the number of police stations that are properly equipped and closely supervised.
We not only need to free the police from the malignant and suffocating political control but also streamline its organisation to ensure a people- friendly and highly efficient and effective police force.

The writer, a retired lieutenant-general, was Vice-Chief of Army Staff and has served as governor of Assam and Jammu and Kashmir

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