Police Reforms: Too Important to Neglect, Too Urgent to Delay

Sunday, January 17, 2010

"The public perceive the police as a "closed fraternity"; they are rude, cruel and corrupt; they are partisan during communal riots; they are not "popular"; they are politically pliable; they are "inactive if there is no pressure, excessively reactive if there is pressure and rarely professionally proactive"; they are "criminals in uniform"; they are also immoral [The Hindu]." Back in 2006, Noida (Nithari) killings "shook the conscience of the Indian society. The Noida incident was a pointer to the breakdown of policing at each level, particularly at the cutting edge level, and the complete erosion of police as the basic institution for internal security [src]." The recent Ruchika Girhotra case has aggravated the already damaged the image of police system. It is high time for us to realize that our country needs sweeping reforms in outdated, colonial era police system.

Need for Police reforms
The existing police system was created in an age in which the crimes as witnessed in the contemporary society were far from imagination. Indian police force was trained in the past to serve the objective of colonial rule and has not yet been granted the much needed autonomy, resources. Over the past one and half century, though the performance of police is NOT entirely disappointing, we have seen a "steady deterioration of standards of policing, the increasing lawlessness amongst the policemen themselves and the attitude of complacency and complicity amongst the leadership in the police organizations."

Existing police system functions in an authoritarian setting. "It has become a coercive apparatus of the government. We need reforms to make police efficient, effective, people friendly and accountable;  to arrest the corruption and break the police nexus with anti-social elements; to bring attitudinal changes in police personnel to assist the community when needed. We need a new framework for police system which can "reflect the expectations of the people regarding the police in the modern democratic society. The use of scientific investigation methods to strengthen the criminal justice system, enabling the police to tackle futuristic trends and organized crime including cyber crime." All in all, we need 21st century police system to deal with 21st century crimes.

Efforts made so far
From 1947, commission after commission has criticized the police system.  Justice Dayal commission of inquiry into the riots in various parts of the country in 1967 found that, "either there was no police force to deal with the mischief-makers or it had no directions to act." Dating from 1979, successive governments have promised police reforms to the people of India. Recommendations for reform made by several police commissions, at national as well as State levels, are kept in cold storage, all because of vested interests, bureaucratic and political.

Shah Commission of Inquiry appointed to look into excesses committed during the Emergency. The National Police Commission (NPC) chaired by Dharam Vira appointed in 1977 submitted eight reports between 1979 and 1981 suggesting wide ranging reforms in the existing police set-up. The reports were so comprehensive that, "the successive committees—Rebeiro (1998), Padmanabhaiah (2000), Malimath (2000), which situated the police reforms in the Criminal Justice System framework and Soli Sorabji (2005), appointed to draft a new Police Act—have used the NPC report and recommendations therein as the reference point."

More over, Supreme court has  issued several directives to reform the existing police system. Ironically, many sought revision of orders by supreme court, albeit unsuccessfully. Directions of the Supreme Court to all State Govts. in a PIL filed by an ex-Police Officer (Prakash Singh vs. Union of India – WP No. 310 0f 1996) have been systematically ignored. Justice Mishra’s recommendations for police investigations, Supreme court Judgement in Vineet Narain 1998, Vohra Committee recommendations and several other measures suggested by various judgments/committees haven't found a place in governments agenda of reforms.

Soli Sorabjee Committee on Police Reforms
"The Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, having visualized the long-felt need to replace the 146 year old Police Act 1861, set up a Committee of Experts, under the Chairmanship of Dr. Soli J. Sorabjee, , former Attorney General, Government of India. in September 2005 to draft a new Police Act 2007 that could meet, inter alia, the growing challenges to policing and to fulfil the democratic aspirations of the people.The Committee had been tasked to draft a new Police Act in view of the changing role/responsibility of police and the challenges.[Read More]"

The committee has made sweeping recommendations and if implemented the country could see a new era of police system. Some of the recommendations include,
  • State Police Complaint Authority to look after the complaints of misconduct against the officers of the rank of SP and above. The "District Complaint Authority" would look into the complaints against officers of the rank DSP and below.
  • Noting that accountability of police officers is paramount, the committee suggested to introduce criminal penalties for some of the common derelictions like non-registration of FIR, unlawful arrest and detentions.
  • National Security Commission headed by the union home minister for the selection and placement of chiefs of central police organizations like BSF, CRPF, SSB, CISF, etc.. In states the State Security Commission would act as a watchdog and be headed by the Chief minister.
  • Fixed tenure for senior officers so that they are free of "political transfers". The "Police Establishment Board" would look after transfers, postings and promotion of officers below the rank of DSP and other personnel.
  • Bifurcation of investigation and law and order duties. This, if implemented, will definitely help improve the quality of investigation and hence the conviction rate.

The recommendations made by Soli Sorabjee committee have a far reaching implications and it is only hoped that these are implemented at the earliest and in letter and spirit. More over, in March 2008, Supreme court has expressed its willingness to have a committee in place to monitor the implementations of police reforms across all states, union territories including the center.

The way forward
Noida (Nithari) Killings of 2006, Ruchika Girhotra case have again ignited the debate of police reforms. As a first sign, Central Police Awards Committee (CPAC) "has taken a generic decision to authorize the Ministry of Home Affairs to recommend the withdrawal of police medal to all persons who are convicted for moral turpitude and for an act that brings disrespect to police forces, or any officer who is dismissed from the service by Centre or the state for his act which brought disrepute to the police.”

Modern day police need to be highly professional, service oriented, free from extraneous influences and yet accountable to the people. Today, there is a general agreement for replacing the colonial era Police Act of 1861. The new Police Act, as proposed by the government based on the recommendations of Soli Sorabjee Committee, has codified many reform recommendations in the past including measures for attitudinal changes of police. Also, the concern for human rights, weaker sections, women have been addressed.

It is high time that both the government and the civil society take responsibility for the police reforms. There are reforms that people can initiate. "Every society gets the police it deserves. After all, policemen come from the same society and reflect the attitudes and behaviors that are found in the society."Civil Society and the media can help improve the status and efficiency of the police by exposing the loop holes. If "people can cooperate in law enforcement, there is bound to be welcome response from other side that eventually results in better law and order situation." It is not fair to blame the government all the time. It's time for the people to accept their responsibilities and force the government to realize that police reforms are too important to neglect and too urgent to delay.

Further Reading
  1. Police Reforms initiatives in India - A report
  2. Police Reforms at Sixty.
  3. CHRI: Police Reforms.
  4. Analysis of Police Act 2007.
  5. A judicial nudge to long-overdue police reforms - The Hindu.

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This work by Manjunath Singe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License. The views and opinions expressed in this work are strictly those of the author and do not represent his employer's views in anyway.