Ex-Director General of Maharashtra Police, Jayant Umranikar, believes that little will change without wide-ranging police reforms
The maintenance of law and order is the key to the nation’s evolution into a global superpower. Reforms have to come now but what are the challenges and what is the reality? Is khaki the colour of the next revolution we need?pune Updated: Jul 27, 2017 17:28 IST
In recent years, the Indian State has remained a mute and impotent witness to the lynching of hapless individuals in the name of cow protection. A Member of Parliament boasts that he slapped an airline official 25 times with his slippers, and gets away without much of an apology or punishment. Politicians and their acolytes smash up highway toll booths wantonly and assault the staff to protest against the temerity of being asked to pay toll charges.
Why has justice not been delivered to victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots or the 1992 Bombay riots in which hundreds were murdered in cold blood? Is this the India we are proud of? Unlike in developed nations with strong, self-sustaining institutions, the arrest and punishment of people with power in India is more an exception than the rule. When will things change for the better in India?
Distinguished IPS officer and former Director General of Police (DGP), Maharashtra, Jayant Umranikar, believes that little will change in the country without wide-ranging police reforms. Author of the well-researched book, Police Reforms in India: A Sisyphean Saga, Umranikar points out that the existing law and order machinery in the country is a continuation from the British Raj when foreign rulers created it to subjugate the masses and not offer protection from criminals and unlawful activities.
Things have not changed much, says Umranikar, because the existing system is very convenient to the modern-day rulers: politicians and the IAS-led bureaucracy. The editorial team of Hindustan Times, Pune, held a free-wheeling discussion with Umranikar on the subject. Excerpts from that discussion:
The overall situation that we see in the country, which has always been the case, is that there is a distrust of the police system. As far as the political parties or those with power and influence are considered, they do not seem to have any respect for the law. What’s your comment on the overall system and where does our police force stand today?
Jayant Umranikar: If you see how the police system evolved in India, you will see that as ancient Indians we had a police system. The king had “swa danda”, which was his personal army. And, then there was “danda bal”, which would look after the law and order. So, the system had its existence in India. There was awareness that autonomy of policing should be maintained and the functional autonomy should not be influenced by the ruler of the day. The format of peoples’ police evolved to rulers’ police and then it became foreign rulers’ police.
The British started the system of policing in India not because they wanted to bring in better law and order. It started as revenue policing as they needed force to twist the arm of farmers and extract maximum revenue from them. That is why you find the torture commission in the Madras presidency. This is the past.
However, over the period of time and especially after independence we should have taken the opportunity and modernised our policing system. We should have brought it nearer to democratic values, welfare state and made it more service-oriented. But, the rulers found it convenient to maintain the partisan way. These are inherent flaws and continue to be so because no one is willing to change. Each one has mutual interests in continuing with what they already have.
Politicians do not want to give away the instrument and the administration doesn’t want to give away the whipping boy. If something is going wrong, the police is always held responsible. For example, what is the role of a police force at a demonstration. Demonstrators are out on the street because the administration or the municipal corporation has not fulfilled their promises. Still the police has to intervene. The role of the police in a democratic system has become very different from what is envisaged in the law. A bureaucrat won’t want the whipping boy going away. The police officers too fear the unknown - if you have grown up in the system you are happy the way it is. It is easier to deal with old problems than find new solutions. There is inertia, no one wants to reform from within.
I have said it in my book also that to improve the situation, the police would need to improve itself. They have to become more acceptable to the public and to the courts of law. Only then you can be more successful in your operations. The inherent fear of what will happen if existing power is lost is what holds back most of them. Over the period of time police has accumulated various functions and power and hence, they are over-burdened.
If you ask me what are the core duties of a police personnel, I would say it is something no one else can do legally: maintaining law and order. The police is the only legal agency that can use violence to curb violence. I am not taking the army into consideration because that is another ambit. The police has investigative power; legally the police is the only agency that has power to investigate. It also gathers intelligence for the State.
Managing traffic is an acquired duty. It has fallen upon the police because the municipal corporation does not have enough staff and they have not managed the roads properly. There are no signals at the right places. So, you find the police involved in traffic management and we are okay with it. We are carrying on.
Beyond this, you have put the police in the role of a social reformer too. There are social legislations starting from the Juvenile Justice Act to anti-dowry and anti-gambling.Thus, a police officer and constable are supposed to be so sensitive as to look after a juvenile and at the same time be effective against a Kasab for anti-terrorist activities. Then you expect them to reform society also and ensure that people don’t take dowry or the husband doesn’t beat his wife or gamble in public. I believe there are many departments that can take care of these activities.
Richard Mark, a sociologist, has said that legislators pass their law especially social reforms and dump it at the back door of a police station like an unwanted child. For example, a journalist gets killed - the response is, make one law and then let the police handle. No one will take responsibility to make sure that people are reformed or educated. We are ineffective because of this reason.
So what all do you expect the police to do? Please confine us to our professional field.The police has been a non-planned subject until recently. This means that it is the last priority of the Government and if money is left then it goes to them. For example: the subsidy for sugarcane farmers is Rs 20-30,000 crores/year. The police budget, till I was in service, would never exceed Rs 8,000 crore. This not new. In 1902, Fraser Commission came up with a list of reforms. The British government of India agreed to the reforms . A total package of reforms was Rs 135 crore in those days. The government sanctioned only Rs 50 lakh. The English were not very different from what we were today. The mandate of the first police commissioner was to have effective revenue collection at the minimum expense. Police have been asked to live of the land, like the invading armies used to, since the beginning. This is an inherent flaw in the system.
We find often that after a situation has occurred, the police official will visit the place and do something popular, not accurately legal. And, then it turns out to be a superficial act to garner coverage. So, do police want to be effective in a different way?
It is true. Earlier police were faced with the daunting task of facing the courts of law. Now we have media courts of law. While the courts of law pass judgements after a few years, the media gives out statements immediately and everyday till the issue dies. So, the police official has to improvise.
I am not justifying anyone’s behaviour. Let me give you an example of my own experience. A double murder takes place and the next morning every newspaper will have the headline ‘Police have no clue’. Now, how will the police have a clue of a double murder if it has something to do with a family feud until they have washed their dirty linen in public? It will take time. The second day the news will say: ‘CP did not visit the spot’.
I once had a crime reporter ask me why I did not visit the crime scene. To which I asked him, why is his editor not present at the press conference. There are jobs assigned and the commissioner of police has various other aspects to look after. I can’t rush to the spot and disturb everybody. We don’t understand these things. The media trial takes place and the police have to cater to a very different court. This is when they take short cuts.
I don’t agree with these short cuts. We have to act as a disciplined force and show maturity, patience and knowledge of legality rather than go for an immediate solution which can later create a huge problem.
Isn’t inefficient policing complicating the matter? For example: a case of vigilantism in Nagpur, 2004, where rapist and murderer Akku Yadav was lynched and murdered. People hailed this mob violence.
This is an interesting example. It brings me to another aspect of police reforms. Police reforms cannot stand on their own; there has to be a reform of the whole criminal justice system. What I mean is the police certainly have to reform, but the laws and courts also have to reform. This case has been citied in my book too. There were scores of cases against him and in almost every case he would get arrested and then released on bail.
If you see, the police registered his case, collected prima facie evidence and took him to the court of law. Now the court had to establish his crime and say that these are non-bailable offences and not grant him bail. But we have the ‘bail not jail’ Act under which he would get out. It is just like the statement, let 99 criminals go unpunished but one innocent should not be punished. This is what is happening today - 99 criminals are going scot free because we have a system that says that.
You mentioned that the police force should become more acceptable to the court of law. Please elaborate?
The police force has to first be more acceptable to the law and then the court of law. If you go by the Indian system, a statement made by a police officer is not admissible in the court of law. The statement considered valid is that of the “panch” present at the crime scene through whom the panchnama is made. I feel this evidence is not really what I would desire. The police as an investigating agency is not acceptable to the courts. It is a strange system. To give an example, if you come to me after a crime to give your FIR, I record it and it is acceptable as a legal document. The moment I complete writing the FIR, whatever I do after that, for example, recording statements - that is not admissible. The roles change immediately.
When the case comes up after five years, the court will accept a tutored statement of the witness. I fail to accept that someone can recollect what exactly happened four-five years ago. Basically, you are okay with accepting tutored statements but not fresh statements of the officer immediately after the crime.
The law has to come up with some solution that whatever police is producing is not discarded. Scientific investigation should help the police, Today, if I have a video of what transpired and produce it, the first allegation of the defence lawyer will be that it is doctored. Then I will have to approach a forensic lab and I cannot rely on the time-frame of its return. A truth serum cannot be administered till I get permission from the court. A brain mapping will again have the defence lawyer say you had made leading questions. So, scientific evidence doesn’t stand a scrutiny of law. This is because we are overly zealous in guarding the rights of an accused.
I am not criticising, I am just explaining the system. The evidence given by sniffer dogs is again just indicative evidence as a dog cannot be cross-examined. We say the police is inefficient. But, my traffic constable is much more efficient than an IAS officer. The constable is taking decisions every moment at the junction. Ask an IAS officer to take his place and he will first appoint a committee, then decide which car should go first. It won’t make sense. The constable may go wrong but don’t blame him for that. It is natural to compare how effective the army is, but the army is kept under training continuously and then may fight one war. On the other hand, a constable is trained once in a lifetime and is fighting yours and his war throughout his career.
So, are you suggesting a complete shift of responsibilities?
Police should concentrate on their core duties and non-core duties should be take away. The police have been and are the most visible arm of the government. They are the first to respond to any emergency. They are not supposed to, but people are so accustomed to this role that they expect the police to do what is not his duty. We are happily doing it and getting criticised when we don’t reach on time. Extraneous things should be taken away from the police. Let local bodies and corporation look after certain things. Distribution of papers to local chowkies and serving of summons should be outsourced. Of course, this is applicable only to large states such as Maharashtra and Karnataka.
Please define the core responsibilities of the police force?
This has to be done in two ways: one which you are supposed to do legally and the other what others cannot do legally. Law and order, investigation and intelligence are among the core responsibilities of the police. However, if someone is threatened, why should the police serve as bodyguards? That work can be done by others.
Even today, in Maharashtra, only three policemen are available for a population of 2,000. So, if a person with Z-plus security comes to my area I have to roughly send 27 officers for his protection. Now 18,000 civilians get deprived of their legal cover because of one person, and most of the time these are the ones from who society needs to be protected!
I am not talking out of my hat. When I was posted in the Indian Embassy in Vienna, a rowdy came to the station. He was creating a ruckus. We had a system so I pressed a button and the Austrian police whisked him away. The next day I got a bill of 5,000 shillings (Rs. 15,000) for rendering their services. I tried to repeat this in Nagpur and received so much flak. I was the first CP to levy a charge for use of police in cricket matches. I introduced that system, now slowly it is catching up. We don’t have this concept at all. We feel the police can be used wherever we want to. Everything has a value and unless you put value and have pay you won’t realise its worth.
So, the police should stick to their traditional preliminary functions of protecting people and property?
This is part of the mandate; life or property, they have to provide protection. Beyond this social legislations should not be forced on them. Has anyone come across a case where because of police intervention a family has been saved from paying dowry and the marriage has survived? Or under Parents Protection Act, when the parent has gone and complained, the police has intervened and the son has agreed he is wrong and taken his father back and they are living happily ever after? It doesn’t happen. These are punitive measures. If you want to reform society, then there have to be reformative measures. Laws should not only be implemented, but one should also decide the agency that is going to implement them and it cannot be police every time.
We see a stark difference between the police in the West and in developing countries like ours. Are there effective reforms and initiatives in other developing countries which India can adopt?
I have seen many developing countries coming up with different ideas. For example, when it comes to community policing, South Africans have brought it into their Constitution. By putting it in the Constitution you are making it mandatory to have community policing and involvement of local bodies and citizens. I have advocated that the local police station should be sensitive to locals and involvement of citizens should be encouraged to an extent where they do not become a nuisance. Also, local bodies should contribute to the police station.
Will a change like what TN Seshan brought to the Election Commission work in the police system? Do you think something like this will hapeen?
In the case of the Election Commission, it was in a complete shambles. Then, TN Seshan came in and forced politicians to obey the law. Making Seshan Election Commissioner was a big move. He was accepted by the establishment. Unfortunately, if something similar is done by someone outside the steel frame, the result will not be the same. I have a drastic solution on how to reform the police. In the Continent they have a system where the court is gathering evidence and one Sessions judge is directing the investigation too. Now what happens suddenly is the acceptability of the evidence - it become acceptable because it is supervised by the court. So, if you want, the court can supervise our day-to-day investigation. But that will never happen here. It is not a practical solution. Firstly, we need to establish certain yardsticks for acceptance of scientific evidence; the work of the police will be slightly more effective then.