The United Liberation Front of Asom, Naga and Mizo rebels, along with home-grown Islamic extremists and Hindutva brigands, are all likely to operate with impunity as little is being done to defang their capabilities. The momentum built up after the November Mumbai attacks has already dissipated and it is business as usual for the home ministry. After creating an ill-conceived National Investigation Agency, which took three months to post a director and gave temporary office space by stationing small units of National Security Guard (NSG) commandos in two-three metropolitan centres, the ministry has gone back into slumber. There is no white paper on the security lapses and no reorganization of the intelligence apparatus. At the state level, politicians continue to make the local police dance to their tune. Large parts of the country, including important tourist centres, continue to be policed by lathi-wielding, poorly paid and ill-trained constables. While past neglect can hardly be blamed on the incoming government, it will nevertheless have to acknowledge that policy contradictions are aggregating and coming to a boiling point. As security challenges mount, the capabilities of security agencies are being stretched thin. The indifference towards policing issues is beginning to affect the morale of even the better administered police forces. The amendment to section 41 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which has already received presidential approval but is awaiting notification, is going to restrict all the powers of the police to arrest offenders in crimes punishable with up to seven years. While the implications of this astonishing amendment—far-reaching and likely to drastically affect police functions—are ill-understood, two other developments are causing further distress and anger among police officers.
The Andhra Pradesh high court’s directive to register murder cases in every incident of encounter is certain to stifle even the most necessary police action, and the inferences for policemen facing murder charges for using force in self-defence are bizarre. For instance, Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, the lone Pakistani terrorist arrested in Mumbai, can levy a murder charge against the police for killing his fellow terrorists.
The Supreme Court has rightly stayed this judgement, but the police’s suspicion of judicial intentions has only been aggravated. The Madras high court fracas, which saw suspensions of police officers without a word of reprimand to the lawyers who burnt the police station, is the last straw for the khaki brass. Young officers have begun voicing their disillusionment, and their disinclination to confront violent situations is noticeable. Whether it is Raj Thackeray’s shenanigans or the Gujjar mayhem or Communist Party of India (Marxist) cadres "capturing" enemy territory, the police are deliberately keeping aloof unless goaded from higher up in every situation of potential conflict.
The Central Bureau of Investigation’s flip-flop in Mulayam Singh’s assets case has also served notice to every investigator that some are more equal than others and must be treated with velvet gloves. Moreover, the government’s indifference towards Supreme Court directives to enact a new police Act in Prakash Singh’s public interest litigation case, or the failure to treat paramilitary forces on a par with the army, are antagonizing police personnel further.
The fact that the military leadership ganged up and confronted the political class to extract better pay scales for its rank and file despite the Sixth Pay Commission’s ruling is a lesson that was not lost on the police. The recent demands for an Indian Police Service (IPS) officer to serve as the Union home secretary, along with one post of election commissioner, are rumblings that are bound to get louder when a coalition government comes to office.
At the same time, the Satyam case illustrates that white-collar crimes are now hurting the national economy. With public servants and politicians being caught with tens of millions in benami transactions, the scale of public money being looted is simply breathtaking. This is also adding to the disillusionment that rulers have vested interests and are not going to support changes in the system.
It is unlikely that the incoming government will reverse existing policies and embark upon a major reform of the system. Nevertheless, there are some areas where it is imperative that action be taken immediately. The safety and security of major establishments—nuclear plants, power stations, transport hubs and financial centres—should be a priority for the new government.
Terrorists keep changing targets: from the Red Fort to Akshardham to Mumbai hotels. While the next strike cannot be predicted, their intentions are clear: to cause maximum damage and provoke a communal backlash. The stationing of special units in all major centres, creation of local commando forces, specialized weapons training and resource augmentation are matters that cannot be postponed any longer.
In a recent seminar in Delhi on capacity building for counter-terrorism efforts, the unanimous conclusion was to increase the police-citizen ratio, strengthen the local intelligence infrastructure and incorporate private security agencies that have become ubiquitous in every large city.
Such steps need not only additional resources but also policy decisions languishing at the home ministry. For too long, the home ministry has deliberately been playing politics with police reforms. At the last count, 558 recommendations, starting from the National Police Commission to the Sorabjee committee, are pending with the home secretary. The least that the new government can do is to take the dust off these files and implement the recommendations. Unless the police apparatus is reformed, the ability of the country to meet growing extremism and other challenges will remain questionable.
Arvind Verma is associate professor of criminal justice at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, and a former Indian Police Service officer. Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org