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Need to replace the archaic 1861 Act

The adversarial nature of our police, vis-a-vis the citizenry, is one of the main legacies of the 1861 Police Act, reports Preeti Singh Saksena.

india Updated: Jan 22, 2007 03:02 IST

The adversarial nature of our police, vis-à-vis the citizenry, is one of the main legacies of the 1861 Police Act. It provides for a policing model based on enforcement rather than service-delivery. This has severely limited the police-public interface, given its emphasis on containing trouble only after it occurs. And when it does, it often helps to expose the inefficacy of our law and order establishment.

The Nithari case, with blatant procedural violations by an apathetic police, has shown that there is little order within law. A major reason for inefficiency in the lower rungs of the force is the wide disparity between incentives and expectations. Inadequate housing, lack of transport resources and policing aids and low pay scales are balanced against long working hours with little mobility. A constable is often on duty for 12-14 hours, on a basic salary ranging from Rs 2600-5000.

According to the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD), 442 DSPs and 78 range DIGs were transferred in less than two years, in 2004, with UP leading the pack at 138 and 26 respectively. On the basis of recommendations made by various commissions, the SC has issued directions to states for transparent recruitment, appointment, promotion and transfers for below-DSP rank officers through a Police Establishment Board, with fixed two-year tenures for senior functionaries.

The SC has also mandated setting up of a State Security Commission as a watchdog body. It has directed states to set up a Police Complaint Authority. Though its structure provides for civil society representation, it is weighted in favour of retired bureaucrats, policemen and the judiciary, providing limited civilian oversight that has been a crucial ingredient in international success stories.

The debate on police reform has shown a rare merging of opinions favouring the separation of law and order functions from investigation, since the criminal justice system rests on the shoulders of police efficiency. Another much needed recommendation, included in most commissions, has been the special treatment required for dealing with crimes against women and weaker sections.

In yet another attempt to bring the police in sync with changing realities, the Police Act Drafting Committee has submitted detailed recommendations on a new Act in September 2006. Let us hope that sixty years of Independence is time enough for the police to free itself from a colonial legacy that is nearly a century and a half old.

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First Published: Jan 22, 2007 03:02 IST