India has one policeman for 700 people and one police station for 87,000 people — half of them staffed by less than 30 policemen.
In such a situation, experts say, no war against terrorism and crime can succeed unless people join hands with security agencies. “Terrorists take advantage of the fact that the public has no rapport with the police or is intimidated by them,” said Ajai Raj Sharma, former Delhi Police commissioner. “If people are ready to play their role, it will send shivers down the spines of criminals and terrorists,” he adds, recalling that some of his most reliable informers were common people. People know what is happening in their neighbourhood. Win their trust and no information can escape the police network, he feels.
The private security industry, that hires 50 lakh guards — more than twice the size of Central and state police forces put together — is eager to contribute. K Vikram Singh, president of the Central Association of Private Security Industry, told the Hindustan Times that he has offered Delhi Police the services of 1.5 lakh private security guards.
Once this plan takes off in the Capital — with the help of the resident welfare associations — it could be fine-tuned for replication in other cities and towns.
Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil wants people to play a similar role in the hinterland, which is so unguarded that victims have to travel thrice as much to reach a police
station than they do to reach a doctor at a primary health centre. At last count, there were 22,900 primary health centres and 7,900 police stations in rural areas.
The Police Act that Patil recently finalised intends to revive the concept of a village guard, a villager appointed in each of the 6.5 lakh villages and trained by the government.
Also on the drawing board is a plan to constitute village defence parties to patrol and assist the police. The district police chief would decide if they are to be armed on the lines of similar bodies in Jammu & Kashmir and Chhattisgarh, depending on the local situation. The proposed central university dedicated to studying policing issues and a specialised institute on internal security would help in this regard. Arvind Verma, who quit the IPS to study policing issues at the Indiana University in the US, said research would facilitate interaction between civil society and the security establishment.
Prakash Singh, the former Uttar Pradesh director-general of police who moved the Supreme Court to push for police reforms, acknowledged the vital role that the apathetic civil society could play.
But he emphasises that the police would have to go for an image makeover for the public to join hands with it.