India needs urgent reforms in policing to free it from the shackles of politicians and bureaucrats and make it more effective and trustful for common citizens, says former police chiefs and experts. Most states have been dragging their feet over the reforms fearing loss of political control over its forces.
Reforms would mean doing away with the colonial legacy that lingers in the form of the archaic Police Act of 1861, say those who have been working on bringing about these changes that they feel are imperative if the nation is to be saved.
Police reform is too important to be neglected and too urgent to be delayed, Maya Dharuwala of the NGO Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) said.
Former director general of police Prakash Singh, who had petitioned the Supreme Court in 1996 for removing deficiencies in police functioning, said: "The main problem in Indian policing is the political and bureaucratic set-up."
Singh told IANS that politicians and bureaucrats don't want to give up the "stranglehold" on the police force, which is "used less and misused more than often".
Police need to be "freed from the shackles of these establishments", he said, adding hindrances to this are natural because "it is like abolishing the zamindari system and taking away land from zamindars (landlords)".
Singh believes "reforms and changing the 150-year-old colonial legacy of the Police Act have to take place. The new India cannot go hand in hand with the archaic act that was designed to serve imperial masters."
Home Minister P Chidambaram, at an internal security meeting on Monday, said the country was facing grave threats from terrorism, insurgency and left-wing extremism.
Chidambaram said the state governments were lax in implementing police reforms, which were recommended after two former DGPs - Prakash Singh and N K Singh - filed public interest suits in the Supreme Court in 1996 for directions to the state and central governments to address deficiencies in the functioning of the police.
According to the CHRI, most of the 28 states of India are refusing to implement the reforms and comply with court orders despite a tough posture from the union government and the Supreme Court. Under India's federal system, law and order is a state subject and New Delhi can only make recommendations to them.
Dharuwala said the reforms "must happen and policemen have to be accountable. I wake up every morning with this hope though the process I believe is too slow".
"If it doesn't happen, the nation will break up," said Dharuwala, who has been spearheading the movement for police reforms since 1997.
Since 1979, a number of commissions have been set up by successive governments to reform the police but their recommendations have been largely ignored.
In October 2006, the union home ministry constituted the Police Act Drafting Committee (PADC) - commonly known as the Soli Sorabjee Committee in September 2005, which submitted a model police act. The apex court Sep 22, 2006, acting on the former police officers' petition, asked the central government to kickstart reforms and asked the state governments to urgently:
- constitute a commission to ensure that the state government does not exercise unwarranted influence or pressure on the police. The commission should also be tasked to evaluate the performance of police.
- ensure that the Director Generals of Police are appointed through merit and has a minimum tenure of two years; other police officers on operational duties should also have a minimum tenure of two years.
- set up Police Establishment Boards, which will decide transfers, postings, promotions and other service matters of police officers of and below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police.
- set up independent Police Complaint Authorities at the state and district levels to look into public complaints against police officers in cases of serious misconduct, including custodial death, grievous hurt or rape in police custody; and
- separate the investigation and law and order functions of the police.