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Guarding our protectors

We’ve now heard it from the home minister’s mouth — many of our police officers have been “reduced to a football” to be kicked about by their political masters. His concerns over police reforms are justified and welcome.

india Updated: Sep 18, 2009 01:23 IST

We’ve now heard it from the home minister’s mouth — many of our police officers have been “reduced to a football” to be kicked about by their political masters. Speaking at a conference of directors and inspectors general of police earlier this week, P Chidambaram minced no words on how such arbitrary conduct towards police officers affects both the individual and the job.

The prime minister spoke at the same meet about our failure to meet the Maoist threat, clearly a reference to the lapses in the law enforcement apparatus. But Mr Chidambaram’s exhortation to police officers not to remain silent over needless, even vindictive, postings and transfers is easier said than done.

These are the very weapons that politicians use to ensure that the police force complies with their bidding. They will not give up that power easily. Which explains why most states are notoriously reluctant to implement the recommendations of various police reform commissions over the years.

Mr Chidambaram is on the right track when he talks of the need for a new-age policeman who would be better trained, motivated and suitably empowered.

Which brings us back to the question of the police being allowed to function more as law enforcers than agents for their political masters. Of course, with only 14.5 policemen for every 10,000 people, the force has its task cut out for it. And certainly, police stations need better riot gear, greater human rights and gender sensitisation and an effective forensic set-up. It also needs five-yearly in-service training as opposed to the 20-yearly one at present.

To fill the gaps, the exchequer will have to fork out at least Rs 25,808 crore. That is not an insurmountable problem. The more difficult task is to take postings and transfers away from the political establishment and allow a police board, as recommended in the model police act formulated by the Soli Sorabjee committee, to undertake this task in a professional manner. In addition, police officers must be assured at least a two-year tenure so they don’t have to keep looking over their shoulder all the time.

We often find a situation when the army has to be called out to do policing duties. This is undesirable in a country that upholds the supremacy of the civilian administration and in which the army has much firefighting of their own to do anyway. So we hope that following his prescient words, Mr Chidambaram will engage the states and work towards implementing the police reforms that have been in the pipeline seemingly forever.