Policing, not Police, is the Issue

Policing, not Police, is the Issue

How competent has the Modi-government been in undertaking the much-talked about “Police Reforms” that include “police modernisation” in the country? This question is of increasing relevance in the wake of deteriorating internal security in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and the rising graph of crimes all over the country. Available data suggests that in 2016, there were 898 terrorism and insurgency related fatalities in India. Of these, 48% fatalities were due to Left Wing Extremism, 30% due to violence in Jammu and Kashmir, and 18% due to insurgency in the North East.

In its election manifesto of 2014, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had promised, among others,  “to roll out a comprehensive strategy for bringing the Indian Police at par with international standards; facilitate training and capacity building of Police forces; modernise the police force, equipping them with the latest technology; initiate the networking of police stations across the country for intelligence sharing and crime control; strengthen Investigations, making them Swift, Transparent, Fair, Clear and Decisive – acting as an inescapable deterrent to wrong- doers and a protective shield to the innocent; and train and technologically enable the police to track, pursue, as well as prevent Cyber Crime.”

One year of its tenure left, the Modi government seems nowhere in reaching these goal posts. In fact, it took more than three years for the Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh to realise that funding Police-Reforms is a major issue and that the states are not spending enough money towards the modernisation of the forces. As a result, in September 2017, in a major boost for police reforms, the Union Cabinet approved a Rs 25,000-crore outlay for upgrading the internal security apparatus in states. The Cabinet Committee on Security, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, approved an umbrella scheme on “Modernisation of Police Forces”, with the money to be spent in three years from 2017-18. Of a total outlay of Rs 25,060 crore, the Centre will provide Rs 18,636 crore — around 80 per cent — while the states’ share will be Rs 6,424 crore, the Home Minister revealed to the media.  “The government had already increased the outlay to states as per the 14th Finance Commission recommendations, from 32 per cent to 42 per cent. It was earlier felt that police reforms would also be funded by states. But today, we have decided to approve the umbrella scheme over and above that,” Singh added.

As regards the central armed police forces(wrongly but better known as paramilitary forces), in  the budget for the financial year 2018-19, is Rs 62,741.31 crore, in comparison to Rs 58,148.80 crore in 2017-18. Besides, Rs 4,289.05 crore has been allocated for development of police infrastructure, including constructions of barracks, residential quarters, purchase of vehicles, arms and ammunition.

However, are these enough? Not really. Police accounts for only 3 percent of spending by the central and state governments. This figure is miniscule in comparison with that prevailing in comparable major countries. All the more so as India happens to be the second most populous country in the world. And what is worse, most of these allocated funds are not event spent by the government(s). For example, in 2015-16, the centre and states allocated Rs 9,203 crore for modernisation. However, only 14% of it was spent.

A recent study by “PRS Legislative Research” has aptly identified some disturbing features of the Police in India. These are the facts that Crime per lakh persons increased by 28% from 2005 to 2015, that State Police forces have 24% vacancies, and that there are severe shortages in weaponry and vehicles.

We have an overburdened police force. As against the United Nations recommended standard of 222 police for a lakh (100000) people, in India we have only 137 police per lakh even if our officially sanctioned police strength is already low at 181 police per lakh persons. And this figure ranges widely from 76 in Bihar to 700 in Delhi.  State police forces had 24% vacancies (about 5.5 lakh vacancies) in January 2016. To be exact, as of January 2016, the total sanctioned strength of state police forces across India was 22, 80,691, with 24% vacancies (i.e. 5, 49,025 vacancies). Vacancies have been around 24%-25% in state police forces since 2009. States with the highest vacancies in 2016 were Uttar Pradesh (50%), Karnataka (36%), West Bengal (33%), Gujarat (32%) and Haryana (31%). According to a retired DGP, there are a total of about 1.8 million police personnel employed by Indian state police organisations today—and there are also 300,000 vacancies.

Correspondingly, the total sanctioned strength of the seven central police forces was 9, 68,233. But, 8 7% of these posts (i.e. 63,556 posts) were lying vacant. Sashastra Seema Bal (18%), Central Industrial Security Force (10%), Indo-Tibetan Border Police (9%) and National Security Guards (8%) had relatively high vacancies. Vacancies in the central police forces have been in the range of 6%-14% since 2007.

If the Police number has been bad enough, that of the Police infrastructure is the worse. An audit report of the Comptroller and Auditor General(CAG) has found that weaponry of several state police forces is outdated, and the acquisition process of weapons slow, causing a shortage in arms and ammunition.  An audit of the Rajasthan police force (2009 to 2014) concluded that there was a shortage of 75% in the availability of modern weapons against the state’s own specified requirements. The same audit also found that even when weapons were procured, a large proportion of them (59%) were lying idle because they had not been distributed to the police stations. Similar audits in West Bengal and Gujarat found shortages of 71% and 36% respectively in required weaponry.

Similarly, audits have noted that police vehicles are in short supply. New vehicles are often used to replace old vehicles, and there is a shortage of drivers. This affects the response time of the police, and consequently their effectiveness. As of January 2015, state forces had a total of 1, 63,946 vehicles, marking a 30.5% deficiency against the required stock of vehicles (2, 35,339 vehicles). The case of Police Telecommunication Network (POLNET) project to connect the police and paramilitary forces of the country through a satellite based communication network that will be significantly faster than the existing system of radio communications, is no better. Audits have found that the POLNET network is non-functional in various states because of non-installation of essential infrastructure such as remote subscriber units and generator sets. The audit also noted that there were 40%-50% vacancies in key segments of trained personnel, such as radio operators and technicians, needed to operate the equipment.

However, what is to be noted here that what ails the Indian police, some of whose features have been highlighted above, are widely known. And they were known even 50 years ago. Volumes have been written and reams of paper dedicated to this subject.  A large number of Commissions and Committees have been appointed over a period of time by successive Governments with a view to carry out the reform process so that the Police of the day are able to perform its duties and responsibilities to the satisfaction of the general public. Some of the important Committees and Commissions include the Gore Committee on Police Training (1971-73); the National Police Commission (1977-81) headed by Shri Dharm Vira; the Rebeiro Committee on Police Reforms (1998); the Padmanabhaiah Committee on Police Reforms (2000); the Task Force on Internal Security, appointed by the Group of Ministers on National Security (2000-01); and the Malimath Committee on Reforms of Criminal Justice System (2002-03).

A Review Committee was appointed by the Ministry of Home Affairs in the year 2005 to take stock of all pending recommendations of the various Commissions and Committees on Police Reforms that were awaiting implementation and to recommend further course of action. The Review Committee had short listed 49 recommendations which were considered critical to the process of police reforms. Thereafter, Soli Sorabjee Committee for drafting a model Police Act (2006) and the Committee on Draft National Policy on Criminal Justice chaired by Prof., (Dr.) N.R. Madhva Menon (2007) also provided further inputs and made some useful recommendations. The Supreme Court too in Writ Petition (Civil) No.310/1996 in Prakash Singh & Others Vs. Union of India & Others had in the year 2006 issued interim orders containing several directions pertaining to matters such as the tenures of the Police Officers, separation of the investigation wing from the other routine police duties, selection process of senior appointments and so on. Thereafter  the Second Administrative Reforms Commission chaired by M. Veerrappa Moily, had in June, 2007 submitted a comprehensive report on “Public Order”, in which a detailed and extremely well researched chapter had been devoted to the subject of Police Reforms.

What this proves is that it is not the ideas on the Police reforms but their lack of implementation that have been the real issue. And here, it is the constitutional or the federal arrangement that has come handy for the policy makers to come out with excuses of lack of agreements among the states and between the Centre and the states.  Maintaining law and order is under the purview of the states; the task of the centre is essentially protecting the states from external aggression and internal disturbances. State police forces are primarily in charge of local issues such as crime prevention and investigation, and maintaining law and order. While they also provide the first response in case of more intense internal security challenges (e.g., terrorist incident or insurgency-related violence), the central forces are specialised in dealing with such conflicts. The central forces assist the defence forces with border protection. The centre is responsible for policing in the seven union territories. It also extends intelligence and financial support to the state police forces.

In other words, consensus- building on police reforms or bringing out a model Police Act to be followed all over the country with minor regional variations from time to time (it is an ongoing process as new or fresh challenges keep on coming with the change of time; in the United States police reforms are made periodically) among the states and between the centre and the states is the key to a stable public order. There should be optimum synergy between the Union and the States in bringing up a model Indian Police force for the future so that peace and security are maintained most efficiently and competently. After all, security and development go hand in hand; the more secured the environment, the better prospects of economic growth.

On a combined basis, the police force operates 180,000 vehicles today, ranging from light to heavy. In short, the combined state police force in India is a massive people, process and logistics organization.

In addition to these state police forces, the Centre manages seven police organizations—Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), the Railway Protection Force (RPF), the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), the Border Security Force (BSF), the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and Assam Rifles (AR). The latter four guard India’s border with Nepal, Bhutan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, China and Myanmar, respectively—functions allocated to the Centre under the Constitution. CISF is used to guard critical infrastructure, including airports; the CRPF is used to maintain internal law and order, especially during communal rioting.

Despite being headed by an IPS officer, the National Security Guard (NSG), charged with counter-terrorism, is not considered a “police force” because its core operational capability is provided by the Indian Army. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) that was born as an internal affairs department to police corruption among central government employees has additionally evolved to take on cases of special crime “referred” from the states that are more complex or more controversial than usual.

Here, the Modi government is in an advantageous position since the BJP is the ruling party both in Delhi and in almost all the important state capitals. Besides, the central government controls the police in all the nine Union Territories. That being the case, it is really a matter of great regret that not much has been done in improving the Policing in the BJP ruled sates, to begin with.

Secondly, and this is crucial to realise, almost all our debates on the Police reforms revolve around the Police behaviour (accountability, performance, salary and perks) not the Policing as an operational system. There is a significant difference between the two, and it is the latter that really is more important.  All told, rank-and file officers in Police, who are often blamed for all the flaws in the system or any incidents, does not decide organisational policies and practices. Their performance is determined by the system, which, in turn, has many flaws.

In other words, if we are to achieve real and sustainable reform in law enforcement, our focus must shift from the police (those individuals sworn to uphold the law) to policing systems (the policies, practices, infrastructures, and culture of police organisations). The stronger the policing system, the more likely bad elements in the Police will be identified and removed from service. The stronger the policing system, the more likely it is that the culture of police organisations will reject officer misconduct and embrace accountability and transparency. And the stronger the policing system, the more likely it is that recruitment and hiring practices will focus not only on hiring diverse, qualified candidates who reflect the communities they serve but also on hiring candidates who see themselves as members of that community.

Ultimately, no police reform can fructify without active support and cooperation from the society or community at large.  In fact, the BJP’s 2014 poll manifesto had clearly and commendably highlighted this aspect. It had promised to “Reinterpret the age-old concept of community policing in modern times; evolving ways for the police to reach out to the people, building bonds of trust and friendship – including spreading out into areas of public safety and public wellness.” Communities are a vital part of the policing system. In the words of Sir Robert Peel, the founder of modern law enforcement, “The police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.” The level of community involvement in the policing system and the level of personal responsibility each community member assumes by cooperating or collaborating with the police greatly impact the outcome of the system. Has the Modi government worked on this aspect? Nothing suggests that it has. Why not begins now?

By Prakash Nanda

(prakash.nanda@hotmail.com)

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