For more than a decade, the word ‘reforms’ has taken on the aura of a mantra in this country. On some fronts, especially on the economic one, reforms have become an issue of debate, a sure sign that actual progress is being made. When it comes to reforms in the police system, however, we still have the Police Act of 1861 to depend on. Considering that the laws according to which India’s police operate have remained practically unchanged since the Victorians laid them down to rule over a colonial State, one would think that change in this area would be a priority. If those charged with maintaining law and order and investigating crimes do not have a sterling image among the citizenry, there are enough reasons for this. It is all very well to talk about a few rotten apples in the force besmirching the reputation of the police, but there have been far too many incidents that suggest that the rot may lie somewhere more at the centre of things rather than at the periphery.
A draft to a new Police Act is being finalised by a committee set up in September 2005. After much nudging from the Supreme Court, which has ordered the implementation of police reforms on or before December 31, 2006, the draft is to be converted into a Bill and placed before Parliament. While reforms are likely to include the creation of separate institutions for investigation and for law and order, upgrading inter-state links to tackle inter-state crimes and incorporating modern methods to crack down on drug-trafficking, cyber-crimes and economic crimes, there is a fundamental flaw that desperately needs correction. Never bothering to rethink the colonial motive behind British India policing, Indian governments at both the Centre and states have preferred to use the police as an extension of politics.
Political interference has become norm in the Indian police system and any unwillingness to comply with the self-styled political masters have led to reprisals, harassments and humiliations. Transfers of police officials after every state government change has become a parody of musical chairs. This, above all, must stop. The Supreme Court has suggested that Director Generals of Police (DGPs), Inspector Generals of Police (IGPs) and even Station House Officers (SHOs) be given a fixed tenure. This will insulate them from being shunted around by those who believe that the police are an extension of their party cadre. Non-accountability, which is what political interference amounts to, when coupled with power is a breeding ground for unbridled corruption. And that is what India’s police system needs to be rid of from the policy-level downwards.