Charting a reformed future for the police
Don’t allow political intervention, restrict use of extreme laws, embark on systemic changes
Addressing the first three-day conference of police chiefs in Independent India on January 12, 1950, Sardar Patel, the then deputy prime minister and home minister, expressed hope that the provincial police would handle law and order on their own, and not depend on the military as an aid to civil power. He also expected better results in criminal investigation with greater coordination between the states. Both issues remain relevant today. The central police forces are fully stretched, aiding various states to combat law and order problems, while states governed by non-Bharatiya Janata Party formations are withdrawing general consent to Central Bureau of Investigation, one by one.
The recommendations of the annual conference, in the early years, led to a great boost to police infrastructure, induction of human resources and technological upgradation. Communal violence, crimes against women, vehicle-theft and a range of other issues reflected the concerns of the prevailing times. Terrorism in Punjab and the insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir became dominant themes in the 1980s and 90s. Even today, Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, Maoism and insurgencies in the Northeast figure prominently.
However, important pronouncements by home ministers, during conferences in the past, have been largely ignored. In 1962, Lal Bahadur Shastri called for the introduction of the police commissioner system in cities with more than 500,000 people. He felt that to handle crimes and law and order, the police should have all powers, even if it meant withdrawing some from the deputy commissioner, revenue. Today, more than half of the one-million-plus towns are still without the police commissioner system.
In 1964, the idea of an All India Police Commission was strongly mooted. In 1981, home minister Giani Zail Singh stressed on the need to post an Indian Police Service (IPS) officer as the home secretary or joint secretary in view of the specialised demands of the ministry. The home ministry shelved the proposal. Further, recommendations of Commissions under Dharamvira (1977), Ribeiro (1998), Padmanabhaiya (2000), Malimath (2000) lie buried as archival material. The home ministry does not brief police chiefs on their status and the public, too, is unaware. Police reforms directed by the Supreme Court are languishing for the last 15 years, in the absence of the home ministry coordinating with the states for their implementation. In 2005, Prime Minister (PM) Manmohan Singh announced a police mission and, in 2014, PM Narendra Modi called for a SMART Police. Both are still works-in-progress.
PM Modi has attempted to inject life into the otherwise staid Director General of Police (DGP) conferences. He is the first PM to sit through all sessions, taking great interest with meaningful interventions. This has led to more relevant police issues being presented by police chiefs. At his behest, younger IPS officers are also invited to the conference. The PM has called for strengthening the police station and suggested third-party audit of police performance.
However, some key issues have still escaped the attention of the conference. Police reforms, the police commissioner system, police autonomy, management of police cadre and the role of the home ministry are surprisingly never discussed. If police stations are to deliver, then posting of SHOs has to be done by superintendents of police and not on secretarial files. The police should be declared a professional organisation where the CEO, here, the director-general of police (DGP), has unfettered right over transfers of his field commanders and is held accountable for his actions. The reason cited for not discussing these issues is that police is a state subject. But if it is so, why does the Centre not introduce a model police Act in Union Territories and install the police commissioner system in states such as Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, where the BJP is in power, to show its intent? The public airing of DGPs’ resolutions would enlighten citizens and exert moral pressure on chief ministers (CMs) to implement them. A few CMs could also be invited to speak at this forum and exchange ideas with the police chiefs.
Some critical events drawing nationwide attention to the role and functioning of the police must figure on the agenda of conference this year — scheduled for early December — such as the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act agitations, Delhi riots, the Vikas Dubey encounter, the Hathras incident, the deaths in Tuticorin police station and the Sushant Singh Rajput case. DGPs must discuss and assess handling of agitations and riots this year, while suggesting a road map for the future. Poor response to cases of atrocities against women needs to be discussed threadbare. Lack of critical forensic support at police stations has to be taken up. Handling mafia dons and treatment of persons in police stations are issues that need to be taken up earnestly.
It is time for the DGPs to decide that sedition laws, defamation and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act or National Security Act, are resorted to only in exceptional cases. Ineffective prosecution is the bane of the criminal justice system. While prosecution-guided investigation exists in other countries, there is no coordination between the two in India. The conference must pitch strongly for a system with better coordination and for hiring prosecutors of quality and experience. And finally, police leaders should resolve not to cede space to the political leadership or bureaucracy on professional matters and cooperate with each other, adhering to the spirit of the law of land. In a democracy, the police is the cornerstone for good governance and should not be taken for granted.