A people-friendly, transparent legal system is the best way to get public servants to discharge their duties. This is what the Supreme Court is trying to ensure with its directive to police departments to upload FIRs within 24 hours. This step will give the victims and suspects access to the FIRs and protect them from paying bribes to the police to get a copy. The SC bench, however, clarified that FIRs related to cases of terror, insurgency, sexual offences and involving the right to privacy would not be uploaded. This decision, the court said, shall not be taken by an officer below the rank of deputy superintendent of police. This is the second major direction on FIRs by the top court. A five-judge Constitution bench in November 2013 ordered mandatory registration of FIRs — without a preliminary inquiry — in case of serious offences such as murder and rape.
While the SC’s directive, which the police departments have to comply with from November 15, takes care of one end of the problem, the bigger challenge is the first step: Filing of an FIR. In 2006, several children and young women went missing from the Nithari area in Noida, a satellite town near Delhi. Despite such large-scale disappearances of children, all from poor families, the police initially refused to file FIRs on complaints from their parents. Three years later, when the case reached the SC, the apex court demanded to know from the police the reason behind not filing FIRs. Or, go to www.ipaidabribe.com, which tries to “uncover the market price of corruption”, and there are hundreds of cases of people forced to pay bribes to file an FIR. Money is not the only reason why the police delay filing FIRs; sometimes it could even be religion or caste considerations since policemen come from the same community that they serve.
To overcome this problem, India’s police system has to be reformed. This project has failed to take off thanks to lack of political support. There is no getting away from having a professional police force which is not only well trained and equipped but, more importantly, highly motivated and committed to upholding the law.