Indifference To Police Reforms Continues
The judgment on the Gulbarg Society incident during 2002 Gujarat riots, where former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri was killed and 31 others went missing, has left not only his widow Zakia Jafri unhappy, but many others have questioned the police role. On June 3, 2016 in Mathura the police attempted to evict the members of Azad Bharat Vidhik Vaicharik Kranti Satyagrahi, a cult supposedly following the ideology and politics of Subhash Chandra Bose. In the ensuing violence, two police officers were killed as the constabulary reportedly ran away when the cult members attacked with fire arms. The Prakash Singh Inquiry Committee report on Haryana violence on Jat quota squarely blames, among others, senior Haryana Police officers for their inability to check the mayhem. Singh has been asked now to look at the faultlines in Haryana Police.
The recent court judgments on 2004 Ishrat Jahan (and three others) encounter Gujarat as well as in Malegaon (Maharashtra) and Mecca Masjid (Hyderabad) cases as well as acquittals and convictions as a result have raised questions on police investigations and their politicisation, which has been known in the country since independence. Related reports on jehadi vs Hindu terror further obfuscate the issues of unpreparedness of the police to face the challenges of extremism and terrorism and how politicians in India straggle around the social space with a brush to tar their opponents and the police is a willing tool. In Bihar, from where videos on the violent behaviour of the police abound on the YouTube, the Bihar Police is reportedly using the recent state prohibition laws to fleece people, even those who are driving through the state, by planting liquor bottles. Chhatisgarh Police’s accusations against some of the Delhi academics for Maoist link too are raising questions on police methods.
Politicians from the concerned political parties across the board are both silent (where they are in power and the behaviour of ‘their’ police is in question) and vocal (where other parties are in power and they can begin a campaign for the next elections). However, none of them at any level and from any part of the country appears concerned to pick up the thread to push for police reforms. For example, anything from Gujarat raises tempers across the political spectrum for what happened fourteen years ago and where no one is guilty for the gruesome deaths of thousands. In the melee and acrimonious TV studio debates the discourse on police indiscretion and partisanship is completely ignored.
Crying hoarse against the Congress misrule, the BJP has not introduced police reforms in the states it has ruled for decades, not even in Gujarat! For any slip by the police, which comes from pressure (including political), a police officer, even a dead one, is blamed, even by some conscience keepers of the Indian society. Political parties, of course, allow their foot soldiers and loose cannons to mouth avoidables, while the senior leaders keep quiet or murmur inanities, demorlising the police further. Obviously, the current government also has no thoughts, no plans to offer to the people of India to cleanse the Khaki.
State governments led either by a national party other than the one ruling at the Centre or a regional party also have displayed similar attitude to the issue. West Bengal is a case in point of the police politicised by the CPM is now serving Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress in similar capacity. Tanked with an overwhelming majority, Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party has been waging a battle with the Union Government (and BJP) to wrest Delhi Police for NCT of Delhi. In the process, he junks the police day-in and day-out; even addressing them with derogatory slang thulla. Such attitudes and processes have harmed the cause of and prevented a state perspective on police reforms, if any to emerge even in the country.
In 1996, two retired cops Prakash Singh and N.K. Singh and H.D. Shourie (Common Cause) had filed a PIL in the Supreme Court for expediting police reforms in India that led to the 2006 directive to the Union and state governments to urgently take measures. If the Supreme Court delivered its judgment in ten years, Union and state governments have done nothing in a decade to address this issue. The apex court gave seven directives to the Union and state governments – i) constitute a State Security Commission; ii) fixed two-year tenure for DGP; iii) two year term for SPs and SHOs; iv) separate investigation and law and order functions; v) constitute Police Establishment Board in each state; vi) set up Police Complaints Authority at state and district levels; vii) set up a National Security Commission at the Central level. Little has been done on these and, if at all something has been done, it is cosmetic; the basic issues remain unresolved. In fact, the Supreme Court had set a deadline for each set of directives, which were violated by most states. On August 23, 2007 Prakash Singh filed contempt petitions against six states – Gujarat, Punjab, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Uttar Pradesh. The list clearly shows that most parties and many prominent leaders are guilty of negligence in this regard.
At the pressure of certain civil society groups, the Congress promised in its 2009 poll manifesto to ‘accelerate the process of police reforms’ and to achieve that objective ‘A clear distinction between the political executive and police administration will be made.’ Since the promise remained unfulfilled, it promised in 2014 to continue ‘police modernisation’, which is not necessarily reform, it ‘will ensure that our police forces are well-trained and sensitive to the needs of the citizens’. Not to be left behind the BJP promised to raising the ‘Indian Police at par with international standards’, the party emphasizes training, modernisation of equipment and technology, ‘networking of police stations across the country for intelligence sharing and crime control’ (it already exists as Zipnet), strengthening investigations, overhauling intelligence and its coordination, modernise prison system and correctional dimensions, developing common national standards and protocols, preventing cyber crime, strengthening marine policing and community policing for building bonds of trust and friendship with the people. Improving the working conditions and welfare of police personnel and working in the spirit of cooperative federalism was another big promise in their manifesto.
Comprehending and Contextualising the Reforms
The police reforms in India have been overdue since independence. Leaving it to the states keeping in view the federal division of power, the Centre appointed a Police Commission on November 15, 1977 following the experience of the emergency, which acquired further urgency and relevance in the wake of all-India police strike in May-June 1979 that brought in both politicisation and poor working conditions of the police. However, during the 1960s and 1970s most states, this would cover all the 29 states and seven Union Territories today, had appointed police commissions. Though they did not recommend a new police Act to replace the 1861 Act that is considered a vestige of colonialism coming in the wake of the 1857 revolt, they did recommend useful organisational restructuring and practices. Even though any organisational reform is an unceasing and perpetual process, a major overhaul beginning with the Act was a necessity that the Police Commission chaired by the civilian Dharam Vira recommended in its eight-volume report.
The NPC has been further vetted over time by Ribeiro Committee (1998), K. Padmanabhiah Committee (2000), V.S. Malimath Committee on Criminal Justice Reforms (2000). Soli Sorabji Committee also proposed a model Police Act that needed to be enacted by states. This Act has yet to be accepted by half the number of states and many which have accepted it, including Nitish Kumar’s Bihar, have enacted a Police Act more regressive than the 1861 Act.
In the mean time, the police continue to be repressive and regressive. The constabulary, constituting 80 percent of the police, lives life of semi-serfs to their seniors and continue living in non-family dilapidated barracks. They are in the line of fire with inordinately long working hours and their unpopularity at peak. The political misuse of police still continues.
Currently, the country has two politicians at the helm who have been Chief Ministers. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had just taken over as the CM of Gujarat when 2002 riots happened, is aware of social and political consequences of not undertaking police reforms. No police reform took place during his long tenure, which is evident from the contempt petition against Gujarat in 2007 by Prakash Singh. Rajnath Singh was CM of UP for a little over sixteen months in 2001-02, a short period to undertake any major reform. Yet, it was not too short for a good initiative. In any case, the BJP has been in power for two years in India with these two stalwarts of state politics calling the shots. There is nothing that stops them from undertaking bold measures on this front as well. After all, this government has undertaken a bold step of abolishing the Planning Commission. Obviously, it is a matter of conviction!
The NDA government that has been swearing by cooperative federalism and BJP has also made assurance on that in its manifesto. It is thus important to mention what could be done. Energizing the intergovernmental panel such as the Inter-State Council and devising such other forums of cooperative federalism is imperative and a challenge that the next government must face. The challenge is in creating a consensus amongst the political parties to contribute to and use such bodies and utilise their collective wisdom for larger good and bringing in commonality in functioning of institutions amidst the need for fostering diversity. Creation of National Security Council as suggested by the Supreme Court would help in bringing the states on board. What is important is that not only the reports we have mentioned are available, there are other little mentioned reports and innovations available to draw a cue from. The report of the Task Force 5 of the second Centre-State Commission Report (2009) presents another framework to enable the police to deal with terrorism. Kerala has created and implemented a framework of an eight hour work schedule as well as weekly off for the constabulary. Another study by Bureau of Police Research and Development shows that it is possible to follow the Kerala model to destress the police. Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative has created a virtual Police Station to educate people of good and bad practices of policing. All these can easily be used with the help of scores of experts who have been crying hoarse about police reforms. The political will would have to come from the top, which this government is in a position to create. Would the Home Minister take the first step in this direction even now?
Pro. Ajay K. Mehra
(The author is Director (Honorary); Centre for Public Affairs, Noida, UP)