India is a vast country with huge variations not only in topography but also in culture and political beliefs. The federal structure of the country’s constitution gives a lot of leeway to the states to implement policies their way.
But sometimes this freedom or autonomy really damages the interests of the people at large. One such issue is the need for reforms in the archaic police system in the country which is still governed by the 1861 Indian Police Act introduced by the British.
There are widespread complaints against the Indian police that it is brutal, insensitive and that it bends backwards to please its political masters. In a way, this mindset owes its origin to the circumstances in which Indian Police Act was created as a response to the Indian war of independence of 1857, also known as the Sepoy Mutiny. The act was meant primarily to crush this mutiny.
Unfortunately the Indian police, with some exceptions, has remained stuck in the same mould, mindset and insensitivity as politicians from all hues have
refused to implement reforms that would take away their power over this huge, ruthless machine.
The exercise to reform the Indian police started in 1977, just after the emergency with the appointment of the National Police Commission headed by Mr. Dharamvira, a prominent and upright civil servant. However, the Janata Dal which had set up the Commission lost power in 1980 and the Congress, which returned to power put the Commission in deep freeze. The story of the incomplete reforms of the police force continued till 1996 when Prakash Singh, a retired IPS officer petitioned the Supreme Court calling for far reaching police reforms. He urged the SC to issue directions to the Government of India to frame a new Police Act on the lines of the model Act drafted by the Commission to ensure that the police is made accountable. He urged the highest court of the country to direct the Central and State Governments to address the most glaring gaps and malpractices in the functioning of the police.
The year 2006 could have been glorious for the country if the order of the Supreme Court to implement the Police reforms had been taken seriously by the powers that be, without waiting for the Governments to initiate steps. The famous order of the SC in the Prakash Singh and others V/s Union of India and others on September 22, 2006 asked for compliance before December 31, 2006 and the Cabinet Secretary of the Government of India and the Chief Secretaries of the State Governments/UTs were directed to file affidavits of compliance by January 3, 2007.
The order asked the government to broadly implement seven reforms-
- Establishment of State Security Commission- to ensure that the State Governments do not exercise unwarranted influence or pressure on the State police and for laying down the broad policy guidelines so that the State police always act according to the laws of the land and the Constitution of the country
- Set down a selection procedure- for appointment of State DGP and fix a minimum tenure of office for him/her
- Fix a minimum tenure- for IG of Police and other officers
- Separation of investigation from law and order-The investigating police shall be separated from law and order police to ensure speedier investigation, better expertise and improved rapport with the people.
- Set up a Police Establishment Board at the State level-There shall be a Police Establishment Board in each State which shall decide the transfers, postings, promotions and other service related matters of officers of and below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police. The Establishment Board shall be a departmental body comprising the Director General of Police and four other senior officers of the Department.
- Set up a Police Complaint Authority at the State and District level-There shall be a Police Complaints Authority at the district level to look into complaints against police officers of and up to the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police. Similarly, there should be another Police Complaints Authority at the State level to look into complaints against officers of the rank of Superintendent of Police and above. The Head of the State Complaints Authority shall be chosen by the State Government out of a panel of names proposed by the Chief Justice or Judge of the High Court nominated by him.
- Set up a National Security Commission-The Central Governments shall also set up a National Security Commission at the Union level to prepare a panel for being placed before the appropriate Appointing Authority, for selection and placement of the Chiefs of the Central Police Organizations (CPO), who should also be given a minimum tenure of two years.
It is January 2015 now and the Supreme Court order remains in the files till date. These innocuous sounding reforms which could have far reaching consequences, have been left hanging by politicians. Not only have States been tardy in implementing the orders of the Supreme Court, many have gone on record to oppose these reforms as being unconstitutional.
The opposition has been on such flimsy grounds that they are laughable. For instance, Gujarat and Nagaland pointed out that political interference was minimal and there was no need for Sate Security Commission. Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, UP and Nagaland protested that a fixed tenure was demoralizing
and unfair to other deserving candidates. Many states argued against the need for a complaints authority because it would be a monetary burden on the state. And Andhra Pradesh argued that this would demoralize the police personnel of the state.
But as I said there are always exceptions. I was DGP Arunachal Pradesh at the time this order came and on October 26, 2006 I sent my recommendations to the Chief Secretary to implement the order of the Supreme Court. But within days I was removed from my post violating the order for having a fixed tenure in office.
The fact is that nobody in power would like to be divested of that power. It applies equally to political masters, bureaucratic masters and senior police officers. The Police reforms if implemented in-toto would turn the police into a people’s police. As of now, the kind of rules that govern the appointments and service conditions of the police are meant to serve the powers that be and it suits everybody, except the police and public.
The reforms, if implemented, would have led to people’s policing and community policing- something that Prayas has attempted to implement in the last 26 years of its existence. The pioneering role of Prayas in combating human trafficking in the country would not have been possible but for this community policing concept. During late 80s as DCP (Crime) in Delhi, inspired by a landmark Judgement of the Supreme Court (Vishaljeet V/s Union of
India) and subsequent requests from Lawyers, Media, and civil societies I conducted a rescue operation in G.B. Road, the redlight areas of Delhi along with the concurrence and participation of the concerned Governmental and non- Governmental agencies for comprehensive solutions to the critical problem of proper care of the ‘neglected children’(under the 1986-Juvenile Justice Act) of the commercial sex workers.
Prayas rescued 117 children with the help of social workers, lawyers and policemen and this action drew nation- wide attention to the problems of the children who were the most vulnerable in this long sordid chain. I personally supervised this massive rescue operation in my dual capacity as a police officer and the General Secretary of Prayas.
In short, the crucial police reforms which could have transformed the police as a force that guards the interests of people, have largely been missing in the country. While the status quo serves the political interests of high and mighty, it is a great injustice to the general public. An efficient, strong and responsive police force is an important organ of society and unless we create such a police force, we are doing a disservice to the society. Police reforms have been on backburner for just too long. But that is hardly a reason to abandon them. We need a reformed police force, and the sooner it happens, the better.
The writer is the General Secretary of Prayas JAC Society and a former IPS officer