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Police Reforms: Long Overdue by Prakash Singh

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Author: Prakash Singh, IPS (Retd)

A highly respected Police Chief and former DG BSF, highlights his serious concern about the state of our Police forces. The state and central police forces are bearing the brunt of insurgents’ and terrorist onslaught. It is essential therefore that the police have the resources, the capability and the motivation to deal with these challenges. Unfortunately, however, the state police are in shambles.

Police Reforms: Long OverdueThey are saddled with a colonial structure and are completely under the thumb of the executive. The stakes are very high. The challenges on the law and order front are becoming grim with every passing day. The terrorist threat is extremely serious and has the potential to destabilise the country. Separatist movements in the north-east are a huge drain on national resources. Maoists have spread their influence over vast swathes of territory. Organised crime is spreading its tentacles. We cannot face formidable challenges of the present times with a police force which was raised to deal with the problems of a medieval past. A must read for all concerned with our national security.

 


The internal security of the country is under severe threat from several quarters. The terrorists, who have spread their tentacles across the sub-continent, want to destroy India politically, economically and culturally. Jammu and Kashmir continues to be on the boil with Pakistan refusing to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism and pushing in batches of infiltrators periodically to spread mayhem in the Valley. In the north-east, violence has been contained but permanent peace continues to elude with the Naga rebels insisting on recognition of their sovereignty and Paresh Baruah of ULFA refusing to come to the negotiating table. The Maoist influence continues to spread to different parts of the country in ever-widening circles.

State of police

All these problems have no doubt political, social or economic dimensions. However, the law and order dimension is common to all the problems - be it terrorism, insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir, separatist movements in the north-east or the Maoist insurrection. The state and central police forces are bearing the brunt of insurgents’ onslaught. It is essential therefore that the police have the resources, the capability and the motivation to deal with these challenges. Unfortunately, however, the state police are in shambles. They are saddled with a colonial structure and are completely under the thumb of the executive. The political directions have to be carried out, right or wrong, lawful or unlawful. Transfers have become an industry. Discipline has taken a nose-dive. Morale has touched the nadir. The institution has degenerated into an instrument at the disposal of the political masters to further their agenda. As David Bayley said, “The rule of law in modern India, the frame upon which justice hangs, has been undermined by the rule of politics”. The police urgently needs to be reformed, reorganised and rejuvenated so that it functions as an instrument of service to the people and is able to deal with the various threats to internal security.

National police commission

The National Police Commission appointed by the government in 1977 felt that “far reaching changes have taken place in the country” since independence but “there has been no comprehensive review of the police system after independence despite radical changes in the political, social and economic situation in the country”. The NPC submitted eight detailed reports between 1979 and 1981 containing comprehensive recommendations covering the entire gamut of police working. The government’s response to the core recommendations of the National Police Commission was unfortunately negative. In 1983, when the reports were forwarded to the state governments, they were asked merely to take appropriate follow up action. The hint was more than obvious and it was not surprising therefore that the state governments conveniently put the major recommendations of the National Police Commission in cold storage.

Judicial intervention

The core recommendations of the National Police Commission were resurrected in a PIL before the Supreme Court in 1996. At the time the petition was filed, the Supreme Court’s attention was drawn, among other things, to two major tragedies which had overtaken the Republic due to the failure of the police to uphold the Rule of Law: the Delhi Riots of 1984 and the demolition of the disputed shrine at Ayodhya in 1992. During the pendency of the petition, another tragedy befell the country - the Gujarat Riots in 2002 when the police acted in a partisan manner. The National Human Rights Commission, which inquired into the incidents, commented as follows:

“The Commission is of the view that recent events in Gujarat and, indeed, in other states of the country underline the need to proceed without delay to implement the reforms that have already been recommended in order to preserve the integrity of the investigating process and to insulate it from extraneous influences …

... there is, inter alia, urgent need for radical police reform ... ‘if the situation is to be cured, if the rule of law is to prevail’. The Commission therefore urges that the matter of Police Reform receives attention at the highest political level, at the Centre and in the States and that this issue be pursued in good faith and on a sustained basis with the greater interest of the country alone in mind, an interest that must overrule every ‘extraneous’ consideration. The rot that has set in must be cured if the rule of law is to prevail.”


Recent events in Gujarat and, indeed, in other states of the country underline the need to proceed without delay to implement the reforms that have already been recommended in order to preserve the integrity of the investigating process and to insulate it from extraneous influences

It is significant that while the PIL was progressing in the Supreme Court, three Committees were appointed by the government at different periods of time to deliberate over the question of police reforms: the Ribeiro Committee in 1998, the Padmanabhaiah Committee in 2000 and the Malimath Committee on Criminal Justice System in 2002. All the aforesaid Committees broadly came to the same conclusions and emphasised the urgent need for police reforms in the context of newly emerging challenges. However, the much needed reforms could not be carried out because of opposition from the political parties.

The state and central police forces are bearing the brunt of insurgents’ onslaught. It is essential therefore that the police have the resources, the capability and the motivation to deal with these challenges. Unfortunately, however, the state police are in shambles. They are saddled with a colonial structure and are completely under the thumb of the executive. The political directions have to be carried out, right or wrong, lawful or unlawful. Transfers have become an industry. Discipline has taken a nose-dive. Morale has touched the nadir. The institution has degenerated into an instrument at the disposal of the political masters to further their agenda. As David Bayley said, “The rule of law in modern India, the frame upon which justice hangs, has been undermined by the rule of politics”

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