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Shortchanged in khaki

The trials and travails of policemen are routinely ignored by the government, writes Prakash Singh.

india Updated: Apr 22, 2008 23:31 IST

Addressing the Chief Ministers’ Conference on internal security in New Delhi on December 20, 2007, the Prime Minister called upon the Indian Police to eliminate the ‘virus’ of Left Wing extremism that is “probably the single biggest security challenge to the Indian State”. He also gave a call to improve routine policing which affects the day-to-day life of the citizens. In fact, he wanted the entire police apparatus to be improved, and said that “we need top class police forces across the length and breadth of our country, forces which can meet our people’s expectations”. The government, however, tends to forget that the police can combat the serious threats to internal security and meet the expectations of the people only if its contribution to society is recognised and is given due respect and recognition.

The recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission have been a great letdown for the police and there is a feeling of sullen resentment among the officers in khaki. The Pay Commission has just not taken cognisance of the extremely difficult and hazardous working conditions of the police in the country these days. It may sound an exaggeration, but it is a fact that over the years police duties in India have become more complex and difficult than in any other part of the world (with the exception of Iraq, where extraordinary conditions prevail). Policemen being killed in Jammu & Kashmir, in the North-east or in areas affected by Naxal violence is a daily occurrence. No tears are shed for them. More police officers and men sacrifice their lives here than in the whole of Europe and the US put together.

The Pay Commission took a blinkered view when it stated that “as the initial postings of IAS officers are generally to small places, they face frequent transfers and the pulls and pressures they have to stand up to early in their careers are much more intense”, and justified this to give a “slight edge” to the IAS officers in the initial stages of their career. If they had only cared to study the ground realities, they would have found that this argument applies a fortiori to police officers. In fact, for the police, there are the additional factors of threat to life, uncertain hours of work, extra vigil on festivals, disruption of family life, etc. Public memory is short, but in the battle against terrorism in Punjab, when all the other departments and services had withdrawn into a cocoon, it was the police and paramilitary officers and men who were in the forefront, upholding the integrity of the country.

What is not understood is that the edge which was supposed to be given only in the early stages of the career has been maintained throughout and there is a yawning gap at the middle level. The Deputy Inspector General has been given a raw deal. The Pay Commission was obviously confused about this level and has expressed contradictory views at different places. If this level is to be retained, it has to be merged into the next higher pay band. State Police Chiefs have also been given a shabby treatment. These officers command huge manpower and are responsible for internal security in the face of growing challenges from mafia groups and anti-national elements. Their responsibilities are enormous. If we want them to conduct themselves with dignity and aplomb, they have to be equated with state Chief Secretaries.

The paramilitary personnel, who are deployed in the remotest parts of the country for their entire careers and are always shuttling from one turbulent theatre to another, have not been given hardship/risk allowance. Napoleon Bonaparte is credited with the remark that no army marches on an empty stomach. It would not be wrong to say that no police or paramilitary force can meet the expectations of the people if it is not given emoluments commensurate with the arduous duties it performs.

On the subject of police reforms, the executive in most of the bigger states has been dragging its feet. Bihar has passed a law that has taken the state, as far as policing is concerned, back to the 19th century. Uttar Pradesh has been brazenly defying the Supreme Court’s directions and issuing transfer orders en masse every month. Tamil Nadu has been quibbling over words and, while pretending to comply with the directions, done precious little in that direction. The Model Police Bill was tabled as far back as October 31, 2006, but the government is still sitting over it.

So you humiliate the police, do not give its personnel their due, take a myopic view of the hard facts, drag your feet even in complying with the Supreme Court’s directions to reform the organisation — and then you expect the police to be top class and risk their lives in dealing with organised criminal syndicates and terrorist outfits. Is it fair? Never mind the fact that if we continue to treat the police shabbily, we are going to have a fragile internal security that, in turn, will jeopardise the economic progress we are so proud of and threaten the stability of our nation’s political structure.

Prakash Singh was the petitioner in the PIL that led to the Supreme Court’s judgment on police reforms. He is former Director General of Police, Uttar Pradesh and Assam and was Director-General, Border Security Force.