The Supreme Court’s directions on police reforms have not been complied with in letter and spirit by any state. Seventeen states have enacted laws to legitimise the status quo and circumvent the implementation of the Court’s directions. The remaining states have passed executive orders that dilute or amend the SC’s directions. No wonder the Justice Thomas committee, which was set up to monitor the implementation of the Court’s directions, expressed a sense of “dismay” over the indifference to judicial directions.
It’s an irony in modern India that while we are able to send a mission to the moon, revolutionise information technology, take a quantum leap in nuclear science, have the fastest growing economy in the world and prepare to run a bullet train, we are still saddled with a colonial police with a feudal mindset. There have been any number of commissions, both at the State and Central levels—National Police Commission headed by Dharm Vira, State Police Commissions, Gore Committee, Ribeiro Committee, Padmanabhaiah Committee, Malimath Committee, to name a few—that made recommendations for reforms, but received no more than cosmetic treatment at the hands of the government. The result is that the common man does not feel secure or protected. To the contrary, he may be harassed or even falsely persecuted by the police if he dares to take a stand against the establishment.
Cases of illegal detention, harassment of witnesses to protect the high and mighty, custodial torture, extracting confession under duress, which later proves to be false, etc., have tarnished the name of the police.
The Central government is not entirely above blame. In 2006, when the SC gave its landmark judgement on police reforms, it was expected that Government of India would enact the Model Police Act, which had been drafted by a committee headed by Soli Sorabjee. The states would possibly have followed the Centre’s example. Besides, Article 252 of the Constitution gives Parliament the power to legislate for two or more states by consent. It states that such an Act shall apply to the consenting states and to any other states by which it is adopted through a resolution passed by the legislatures of those states. Nothing of the kind was even attempted by the previous government. As a result, we are confronted with an anomalous situation. The British had one Police Act for the entire country, while we have different Acts for different states.
For the common man, police are the first point of contact with the law. His respect for law, therefore, depends to a large extent on his confidence in the police. But, unfortunately in India, the situation is such that people are afraid of going to the police even when it is necessary. Reports of police favouring those with money and political connections, and harassing the poor and the underprivileged drive them away.
Abrasive manners, refusal to register complaints and taking sides are the common complaints against the police. Cases of illegal detention, harassment of witnesses to protect the high and mighty, custodial torture, extracting confession under duress, which later proves to be false, etc., have tarnished the name of the police. Such instances also result in the real culprits escaping and innocent persons getting convicted. A few honest officers, who try to chart a new course, are often forced to give up due to pressure from the top. Those who are harassed by their seniors and political bosses, take it out on their subordinates and the latter vent their frustration on the public.
Many of these shortcomings of the police are a legacy of colonial rule. The Indian Police Act 1861, enacted by the British soon after the rebellion of 1857 to suppress the democratic aspirations of the people and to keep them under subjugation, governs the police even today. The Police Act of 1861 was designed to be a tool of oppression. Though times and circumstances have changed, police in India are yet to imbibe qualities suitable for a democratic society. Many in the police force believe that an authoritarian style of functioning and an intimidating personality trait are the sine qua non of the police. Instead of being seen as a friend of the people and protector of the law, the police arouse fear in the people.
During Emergency (1975-77), the country witnessed large scale misuse of the police by the ruling party, to curtail dissent. The Janata Party government, which came to power after the distressing experience, constituted the National Police Commission (NPC) headed by Dharma Vira to reform the police. The NPC made a painstaking study to identify and understand the issues and suggested measures for bringing about changes in the organisation and role of the police.
It suggested measures to reduce political interference, to make police officers accountable and for changing the attitude of police towards the public. The NPC drafted the Model Police Act to replace the draconian Indian Police Act. Policing being a state subject, it was for the state governments to implement the recommendations. But none of the state governments was prepared to usher in the changes, as it would have deprived the political class of the control over the police.
Pained by this, two retired DGPs—Prakash Singh and N.K. Singh—filed a PIL in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court set up the Ribeiro Committee to suggest measures for reforms and the committee submitted its report in 1999. Again, a second committee known as the Padmanabhaiah Committee was set up, which submitted its report in 2000.
After this, the SC set up the Soli Sorabjee Committee to draft the new Model Police Bill to replace the colonial Police Act of 1861. But the state governments were not ready for the change. Finally, the Supreme Court, delivering its verdict in 2006, issued seven directives for immediate implementation. But the state governments were not willing to comply. The exasperated apex court had to set up a three-member committee in 2008 to monitor compliance of its directives.
But not much has changed till today. Most of the directives of the Supreme Court and recommendations of the committees remain unimplemented. Inclusion of the opposition leader and independent members in the panel for appointing and fixing the tenure of senior officers, stopping interference by politicians in the day-to-day functioning of the police, setting up of a Police Establishment to oversee postings and transfer, establishment of a Police Complaints Authority to enforce accountability, separation of law and order and investigation functions, etc., remain a mirage.
The present structure and hierarchy of the police is not conducive to promoting efficiency. Constables constitute 80% of the police force. They are ill-paid and their work profile does not promote responsibility. Their job is simply obeying the orders of their superiors. There is no scope for job satisfaction. Promotional opportunities are limited. According to a study by the Bureau of Police Research and Development, most of them work extended hours and often are not allowed weekly offs due to staff shortage. It is no wonder they become rude and impatient. Lack of leisure and rest can drive anybody to the edge.
Though there is a huge shortage of staff, a large number of policemen are posted for VIP security and many are posted as orderlies to do domestic chores at the homes of senior officers. Various studies have pointed out that the recruitment and training process leave much to be desired. Emphasis on physical fitness to the exclusion of other faculties is the bane of the constable recruitment process.
The recommendation of NPC on increasing the number of middle level cadres of ASI/SI/inspector with a corresponding reduction in the number of constables should be implemented. Apart from increasing promotional opportunities for the constables, this will result in more number of staff in responsible positions. On-job training at different levels should be provided, which will include skill development, motivation, team building, basic human psychology, stress management and updating knowledge in legal and investigation methods.
The Supreme Court and the NPC have charted the course for reforming the police and transforming them. But the state governments are dilly-dallying. The consequence of non-compliance is there for all to see. There may be constraints. But there is also a way out if the politicians are willing. Will the politicians wake up?
As in the case of the Lokpal Bill, we need a leadership role of civil society and constant coercion towards the states. But the difficulty lies in the fact that it’s been impossible to persuade each state to enact a law in consonance with the SC directives. The only hope was the Supreme Court, and it seems the states need another stern warning from the court—which they got and forgot. It is time that the nation realised that not to implement police reforms in letter and spirit is inviting disaster. Left wing extremism, terror, ISI activities are just waiting for an opportunity. Are we going to defend the nation or play petty politics?
Dr Vikram Singh, is former -Director General of Police, -Uttar Pradesh, and Pro Chancellor, Noida International University, Noida.