They sat on recommendations to reform the policing system for nearly two decades till the Supreme Court stepped in this September. Now the state governments insist they too want police reforms but not entirely on the lines of the SC directive.
In their status report to be filed before the Supreme Court before January 3 deadline, the states are also going to inform the court about the reform initiatives that they cannot implement and their reasoning. An Orissa government spokesman said there was consensus among states about the practical difficulties faced by them in literally implementing the SC orders.
The SC had put six items on the reforms agenda of the state governments. There were indications at a meeting of chief ministers convened by the Union home minister Shivraj Patil on Saturday that there would be reservations on as many as five.
Significantly, the Supreme Court reform directives are only valid for as long as the centre and the states do not enact or amend the Police Act. The 22nd September judgement had expressed the "hope" that the legislature would incorporate the recommended reform initiatives in the fresh law. Officials hinted that this could be why states like Haryana are rushing to promulgate an Ordinance on this subject.
The only directive on which there was unanimity was the separation of law and order and investigation duties in big cities and towns. A Union home ministry communiqué noted the "general agreement" on this point but was silent on the remaining five.
The five items on which states have reservations include a fixed term for police officers down till the police station incharge level, a role for the union public service commission in selecting the police chief and establishment of a state security commission to ensure that the state government does not exercise "unwarranted influence or pressure" on the police force.
Patil later acknowledged that there was a division among states on forming Police Complaints Authority. Karnataka was among those opposed this authority. Home minister MP Prakash explained that setting up the complaint authorities at the state and district levels would cost them nearly Rs 40 crore. "We can't spare this kind of a money… there are already other channels for people to lodge their complaints."
Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar argued that it was too simplistic to attribute the decline in working of the police to political interference. "What about interference from the superiors? What about bribery and corruption?" he asked, emphasising that fixed tenures could create "monsters" in each police station.
As for the state security commission too, the Karnataka home minister said everyone expressed reservations on setting up the commission to deal with the police. "It would erode into the authority of the states," Prakash said, echoing points made by many other chief ministers including Nitish Kumar and Mulayam Singh Yadav.