When khaki fades
The Indian police, whose structural framework was defined in 1861, has completed 150 years of its existence. Normally, this would have called for some kind of celebration. But there is hardly any talk of observing the anniversary. Reason is not far to seek. These have been years of serfdom for the police. The British raised a police which would be “politically useful” to the imperial masters. It would enable them to keep the empire intact. The police would carry out their orders, right or wrong, lawful or unlawful, constitutional or otherwise. Tragically, the arrangement has continued even after Independence.
The country has paid a very heavy price for the political stranglehold over the police. There have been three tragedies at the national level which could either have been averted or, at least, their severity could have been minimised. These were: the 1984 riots when Sikhs were massacred in Delhi and the police did not take effective action because the hoodlums belonged to the ruling party; the demolition of the disputed shrine at Ayodhya in 1994 notwithstanding the formidable presence of state and central paramilitary forces at the location; and the Gujarat riots in 2002 when the police did not play its mandated role of curbing the conflagration. How many more such tragedies are going to be enacted before the country wakes up to the seriousness of police reform?
It is one of the ironies of modern India that while we are preparing to send a mission to the moon, while there has been a revolution in information technology, while there has been vast improvement in the rail and road network across the country, while we have taken a quantum leap in nuclear science, while we have one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, we are — more than six decades after Independence — saddled with a colonial police with a feudal mindset. There have been any number of commissions, both at the state and central levels — state police commissions, National Police Commission, Gore Committee, Ribeiro Committee, Padmanabhaiah Committee, Malimath Committee, to name a few — which made recommendations for reforms, but these received no more than cosmetic treatment with the result that the common man does not feel secure or protected. On the contrary, he may be harassed or even persecuted by the police if he takes a stand against the establishment.
There are more than 20,000 police stations and posts across the length and breadth of the country, and their working impinges on the life of the common man from Srinagar to Kanyakumari and from Ahmedabad to Aizwal, irrespective of whether s/he has a complaint or not. It is a sad commentary on our republic that we have not been able to transform the police force into an instrument of service that upholds the rule of law and inspires confidence among the people.
The Supreme Court, in a landmark judgment on September 22, 2006, ordered the setting up of three institutions at the state level with a view to insulate the police from extraneous influences, giving it functional autonomy and ensuring its accountability. These institutions are: the State Security Commission, which would lay down the broad policies and give directions for the performance of the preventive tasks and service-oriented functions of the police; the Police Establishment Board to decide all transfers, postings, promotions and other service-related matters of junior officers; and the Police Complaints Authority at the district and state levels to inquire into allegations of serious misconduct by police personnel. Besides, the Supreme Court ordered that the director-general of police shall be selected by the state government from amongst the three senior-most officers of the department who have been empanelled for promotion to that rank by the Union Public Service Commission, and that s/he must have a prescribed minimum tenure of two years. Police officers on operational duties in the field — like the IG (zone), DIG (range), SP in charge of a district and SHO, would also have a minimum tenure of two years. The court also ordered the separation of investigating police from the law and order police to ensure speedier investigation, better expertise and improved rapport with people.
The Union government was asked to set up a National Security Commission for the selection and placement of heads of Central police organisations, upgrading the effectiveness of these forces and improving the service conditions of its personnel. These orders were to be implemented by March 31, 2007. The Thomas Committee, which was appointed by the Supreme Court to monitor the implementation of its directions in the various states, in its report dated August 23, 2010, expressed “dismay over the total indifference to the issue of reforms in the functioning of police being exhibited by the states”.
The Supreme Court’s directions, it needs to be highlighted, are not for the glory of the police — they are to give better security and protection to the people of the country, uphold their human rights and improve governance. If sincerely implemented, the ruler’s police would be transformed into people’s police.
It is obvious that unless the judiciary cracks the whip and makes an example of one or two non-compliant states, the much-needed police reforms will remain only an aspiration. It is essential that public opinion is also mobilised to put pressure on the executive to accelerate the process of police reforms. Media should also pitch in and make its contribution.
The stakes are very high. The challenges on the law and order front are becoming grim with every passing day. Organised crime is spreading its tentacles. Maoists pose a formidable challenge. The terrorist threat is extremely serious and has the potential to destabilse the country. We cannot face formidable challenges of the present times with a police force which was raised to meet the challenges of a medieval past. Our first line of defence has to be strengthened. Its capabilities have to be substantially augmented. There is no room for delay or complacency.
The writer is a former police chief