- Jun 13 2016
From Kerala to Kashmir and from Bihar to Bengal, all our States seem to have one thing in common: Criminals of all sorts and shapes appear or disappear at will, a trick that can give the world’s best magicians a run for their money. In the bargain they leave behind a bemused, ineffective, inefficient and callous police that seems to be a law unto itself. The videos doing the rounds on social media that show the manner in which the Haryana Police scarpered, when confronted by Jat agitators says it all, as do the actions of the Uttar Pradesh police in Mathura which let criminals flourish under its nose till the courts intervened.
It does not require a genius to realise that without the rule of law there can be neither a civilised society nor a progressive one. Despite the Chief Justice of India’s angst at the state of the judiciary, the fact is that without an effective and professional police force, our criminal justice system is a hollow shell that is incapable of either catching criminals or ensuring that appropriate evidence is collected and presented to the courts to ensure justice.
The Indian Police Service (IPS) is broken down. It is eviscerated and wholly corrupt, barring a few, and acts as the hand-maiden of the criminal-business-politician nexus that values power and pelf above everything else.
The Police as we know it today was set up by the Police Act of 1861. As the report of the seminar on “The National Police Commission: Its Relevance Today” organised by the Nehru Centre and Hindustan Andolan at Mumbai in April 1997 states “the advent of independence changed the political system, but the police system remained unaltered. The Police Act of 1861 continued to govern it, laws and courts continued to distrust it.”
As regards its efficiency, or lack of it, few will disagree with the assessment of Sir AHL Fraser who chaired the Second Police Commission over a 114 years ago, in 1902 to be precise, when he concluded “the police force is far from efficient, it is defective in training and organisation, it is inadequately supervised, it is generally regarded as corrupt and oppressive and it has utterly failed to secure the confidence and cordial cooperation of the people.” If anything, the situation has only got worse as political interference, utter disregard for propriety and servility to the Government has destroyed whatever little credibility was left.
Eight Police Commissions have now submitted reports to the Government of India over the past seven decades, with little heed being paid to their recommendations. Suggestions to protect the police from political influence have been the major reason for aversion by Governments to implement police reforms as that goes against the very creed of how politicians operate, since their survival and prosperity depends on the influence they wield. The only manner in which the present state of affairs can be changed is if the voting public decides enough is enough and puts pressure on political parties to act — a highly unlikely proposition, given our fractured polity and rampant illiteracy.
The last option is to hope for the Supreme Court to take cognizance of the issue and ensure appropriate measures are adopted by the State and Union Governments, which it has attempted to do, from time to time, in the past. This too appears to be a pipe-dream given that in practical terms the writ of the Supreme Court rarely exceeds the outer limit of the National Capital Territory, and it is in any case completely over-whelmed by the rather decrepit state of affairs of the judiciary itself. We thus find ourselves perched between the devil and a very deep sea, as without this fundamental change all other reforms seem futile.
It is, therefore, time we approached this issue from a different perspective. Sir Francis Bacon, English philosopher, statesman and author, once wrote: “The people assembled; Mahomet called the hill to come to him, again and again; and when the hill stood still, he was never a whit abashed, but said, if the hill will not come to Mahomet, Mahomet will go to the hill”. The single-most advantage that our democracy provides us is that despite their best efforts politicians are accountable to the people, albeit only every few years. Thus, since isolating the police from political interference seems a herculean task, if not impossible, it would be to our advantage to make the police directly accountable to politicians and thereby to us. In such an endeavour, we must ensure that accountability must not be solely of the Chief Minister or the Home Minister but devolved further down, in line with our attempts at Panchayati Raj.
The military style hierarchy that the British established for the police, from the beat constable to the State Director General of Police has long outlived its utility. It could be replaced by a plethora of independent police forces, established at the district and municipal levels, responsible for law enforcement within their own jurisdiction and reporting to a Police Board.
This Board should include local Government representatives, elected politicians and eminent citizens, all of whom must be residents of that district or town. It stands to reason those serving with this force, including its officers, would also be residents of the area and their hiring and subsequent promotions must be restricted within that Police Force and be the responsibility of the local Police Board. Importantly, there will be no provision for transfer from one police force to another and an individual so interested could quit his post and apply elsewhere, just as he would, if working in the private sector.
This will ensure better integration of the police with the local population, apart from ensuring better understanding and knowledge of local dynamics. Accountability within the police force itself and of the Police Board would be easy to lay down as no stakeholder responsible for local law and order can remain faceless and anonymous, whether they are policemen, politicians or bureaucrats as their every action will be under scrutiny of the local populace.
Central Police Organisations like the CRPF, CBI and NIA as well as those of the State like the State Armed Police must continue to operate under the Central/State Government and be made available to districts and towns as and when they are required or requisitioned. In the interests of efficiency the police training establishments and equipping of all police forces could continue to be centralised at the State level. In addition criminal data bases and communications would have to be at the national level to cater for jurisdictional difficulties.
This means doing away with the Indian Police Service and it them with professionals who will commence their careers at the bottom and work their way up. The efficacy of the IPS is questionable, given that it enrolls generalists with little practical experience in policing, and parachutes them directly in supervisory roles. Also, given their transfers at regular intervals, they have little local knowledge and are dependent on subordinate officers and prominent locals, to whom they then become beholden. Such suggestions for transforming policing will never emerge from within the establishment, as the status quo suits all stake-holders, other than the public, which bears the brunt of the its inability to provide a civilised society based on the rule of law.
This commentary originally appeared in The Pioneer.