I am not surprised that the Chief Ministers who met the Union Home Minister in Delhi in December-end, disapproved of the introduction of the Supreme Court-mandated police reforms. Six years ago a committee, chaired by me, and appointed by the Union Home Ministry, had visited all the states and discussed the issue of police reforms with the Chief Ministers. Jyoti Basu was non-committal, although Budhdadeb Bhattacharjee, who was also present in his capacity as West Bengal Home Minister at that time, appeared to understand the necessity of reforms. Parkash Singh Badal in Punjab said that his government would agree to the reforms if other states were also willing. Rabri Devi in Bihar did not voice any opinion but her husband Lalu Prasad Yadav who spoke for her opposed the move. All other CMs, particularly Manohar Joshi in Maharashtra, were vehemently opposed.
The committee also met leaders of the opposition parties. Since their parties were not in power, they were in favour of the reforms. We were amused to note that representatives of opposition parties in the states had diametrically opposite views to those of their own party members in the states where they were in power. This only showed that those in power were very happy to misuse the police for their own selfish ends by appointing pliable officers who would do their bidding.
The police should be accountable to the law. This does not happen at present, although it is heartening to note that the courts have been intervening more frequently when there is gross miscarriage of justice. The police should be professional. It should definitely not be politicised. But the position today is exactly the opposite because of the shenanigans of politicians who want to run the police force themselves. Politicians in power, advised by an independent bureaucracy, should lay down broad policy guidelines for police functioning, monitor performance and ensure that the police operates within the confines of law. Some years after Independence this was the philosophy adopted and it worked reasonably well. Unfortunately, politicians of that calibre hardly exist today.
Those who join politics now do so for a living and only that. They are not particularly interested in the good of the common people. A former Home Minister in Maharashtra, for instance, ordered postings and transfers for extraneous considerations and sidetracked all officers who followed the law and their conscience. The harm done to the force will take years to rectify despite the attempts of his successor to open space for the better sort.
It is not the job of the politician or the bureaucrat sitting in Mantralaya to run the police force. It is the job of the professional. Today, all the ‘Mantralayas’ in the country are staffed with unnecessary personnel who are duplicating the tasks that should be left solely to the departments that they control. The office of the Commissioner of Police, Mumbai, and that of the Director General of Police, Maharashtra, for instance, have staff sanctioned for keeping a tag on personnel matters that include postings, transfers, punishments, rewards and appeals.
Now, the political class, assisted by a subservient bureaucracy, want to directly control personnel administration, which is an area that involves discipline and morale. An equal number of positions have been created in the Home Departments to cater to this damaging addition to their prescribed role.
Nothing highlights the necessity of police reforms today more than the total failure of the police machinery in Noida where complaints of the missing children were ignored in a cavalier manner by a politicised police. The position in other states is perilously close to that in UP where successive Chief Ministers have used the police to keep themselves in power. But even in the better administered states, I doubt if the police would have acted swiftly as soon as the first complaint was received.
The police have become lethargic and uncaring over the years. All subordinate police officers and men have political patrons whom they have cultivated for their own pecuniary advantage. These patrons resist all attempts to discipline recalcitrant officials. The entire atmosphere is one of permissiveness. Sadly, the police chiefs are more concerned about retaining their chairs by paying obeisance to the politicians rather then paying attention to the complaints of the people and the misdeeds of their own subordinates.
The common grouse of the Chief Ministers who met in Delhi was that the parties in power had a constitutional obligation to maintain law and order and this would be weakened if the reforms were adopted. This is a fallacy. The reforms do not take away the authority of the Home Minister of the state as he will continue to be the head of the proposed State Security Commission. The role of the elected government to maintain order and enforce the law can never be modified. What the reforms intend to do are to take away the sole power of one man to appoint and transfer and settle the authority on a collegium, whose collective wisdom will moderate the individual wisdom of the minister.
Where corrupt or inefficient officials used to worm their way to the top through political machinations, the State Security Commission would ensure that only those who are empanelled for higher positions by an independent body like the UPSC would be considered for senior appointments. What is wrong with this arrangement? Empanelment of IAS and IPS officers for appointments in the Union Government is being enforced presently at the Centre. It can easily be extended to the states to prevent any officer who is not empanelled there to occupy senior positions in the states.
People are entitled to have a police force led by good people whom they can trust. Much depends on leadership, particularly in uniformed forces. Many police commanders are being appointed for extraneous considerations and that is where the problem lies. The police reforms will institutionalise the entire process of appointments and transfers to eliminate the corrupt and the ineffective.
There are many bureaucrats who fear that their influence would wane if police reforms are enforced. They allege that the police will become a law unto themselves and that an independent police force would degenerate into a Police State. There is nothing farther from the truth. The reforms intend to make the police more accountable not necessarily to the bureaucrats and the politicians but to the majesty of the law. Anyone who steers away from the beaten path can be dealt with by the Security Commission headed by the Home Minister and in which the bureaucracy is prominently represented. No country and no people can or will accept a police force that is unaccountable.
We in India certainly do not want a Police Raj. But we do want a professional, humane and efficient force, operating within the confines of the law. This is possible only if operational independence is given to the force. Operational independence means the authority to appoint and transfer officers of subordinate ranks particularly at the cutting edge, which in this case is the police station. There should be no interference in disciplinary matters and there should be no interference in the proper investigation of offences irrespective of the party affiliation or the economic status of the offender.
After the Right to Information Act, police reforms present a golden opportunity to address the injustices in the system. The public should insist on an accountable police force. With the Supreme Court coming out in favour of reforms that were suggested 25 years ago by the Dharam Vira-headed National Police Commission and reinforced by the recommendations of eminent jurist Soli Sorabjee, the path has been opened. Unless the people come out and force the politicians and the bureaucrats to accept the reforms, police inaction as reported from Nithari and Khairlanji will become routine.
Julio Ribeiro is former Mumbai Police Commissiomer