Friday, November 15, 2013

Reforming “khaki”--- By Jojo Mathews

As the Indian society advances rapidly and the nation itself becomes a major political power in the international arena, various domestic institutions are lagging behind and continue to remain inadequate in terms of efficiency. Without hesitation the Indian police is one such institution, which continues to remain a colonial. The recent events like the letter written by DG Vanzara; an influential police officer of Gujarat now in jail for alleged fake encounters and communal violence in Muzaffar Nagar with the police not doing enough clearly reflect dire need for the reforms. The Supreme Court of India, NHRC along with important committees in the past like the Ribeiro Committee and the Sorabjee Committee have stalwartly advocated for the police reforms in the country.
The most pertinent issue related to the free and fair functioning of the Police is the system of dual control. Apart from its own departmental hierarchy, the police force is also subjected to the control by the civilian authority. Section 3 of The Police Act, 1861 states that the “superintendence of the police shall vest in, and shall be exercised by the State Government”. The power of ‘superintendence’ in this context is equivalent to that of a High Court in relation to the subordinate judiciary, under Article 227 of the Constitution. This has resulted into political interference in the day to day functioning of the police. There are various instances wherein the criminals with the political nexus are intentionally shielded against the police action. Likewise there have been rampant cases of gross misuse of police force against the political rivals with ulterior motives. The tendencies like these promote politicization of the police force, nepotism and favoritism.
In the present police force, appointments, transfers and promotion are mostly based on subjective opinions. Promotion to higher positions directly involves the executive, while transfers and postings are vested in the hands of higher ranked police officer and applied to all levels. Even here the political executive has an important say. A new government usually appoints, transfers and promotes policemen they know are loyal to them. In big states like Uttar Pradesh, with change of political party in power, the transfers of police officers in herculean proportion has almost become a norm.
To tackle this, in the famous Prakash Singh case (2006-07), the Supreme Court envisaged Security Commission in every state to ensure that the state government does not exercise unwarranted influence or pressure on the state police and for laying down the broad policy guidelines so that the state police always acts according to the laws of the land and the Constitution of the country. The court also gave the guidelines for transparent procedure for the appointment of police chief and desirability of giving him a fixed tenure; separation of investigation work from law and order duties; and a new Police Act to reflect the democratic aspirations of the people. Unfortunately even today the recommendations made by the apex court, 6 years ago, aimed at insulating the police from illegitimate outside control of bureaucrats and politicians remains   unimplemented.
Ironically even after the decades of independence, the basis of policing in India is governed by the archaic and semi barbaric laws of colonial era.  For instance Police Act (1861), Indian Penal Code (1868), Indian Evidence Act (1872) and Indian Arms Act (1857) form the very foundation of policing in India. On the virtues of these laws, a large number of the discretionary powers are endowed to the police officers in the case of search; enquiry and questioning. These discretionary powers facilitate corruption and coercion. Many provisions in these acts perpetuate the colonial legacy and lack any value of the welfare state.  In nut shell the philosophy behind these Acts is very much in line with the colonial interest i.e. to maintain the hegemony of the state through terror and intimidation.
The behavioral aspect of police in India is also marred with the colonial legacy. Policing for a common Indian citizen still represents repression, exploitation and portentous display of pomp and show because it is highly centralized without any accountability to the local population. The distrust of the Indian police has reached a point where citizens rather avoid the police than report an incident due to harassment and the discomfort at the police station. Those who are compelled to go to the police sometimes even turn to less legal approaches, such as bribing, using influence or even approaching middlemen. In a survey done by Transparency International India in 2005, 87% of the respondent to the survey agreed with that there was corruption in the police force, 74% felt that the quality of service they received was inadequate and 47% felt compelled to pay a bribe for their FIR to get filed.  Ideally the policing in a democratic society should be based on people’s participation, but the behavioral aspect of police in India had set up utterly wrong precedents.
The structure of police force also needs serious reforms. The structure in the police force is strictly hierarchical and the decision making is centralized with a few high ranking police officers. Currently there is a four-level entry system to the Indian police force with little or no scope for a fresh recruit rising from the very bottom to the very top within the hierarchy. The structure of police force in India resembles a pyramid with heavy base.  The police force constitutes of 88% constabulary, only about 0.8% personals at the Indian Police Services (IPS) ranks. There is a huge disparity between the terms and conditions, remuneration, position, power and authority at different ranks of the police force.
The police training is still archaic in nature, content and methods. The main emphasis during the recruitment of police personnel (especially for constables and Sub Inspectors) is more on muscle than on the mind. Training is based on drill and regimentation and is moreover ritualistic in nature. Human Rights, gender issues, cyber crimes etc, if at all, form an insignificant part in the training programs. As most of the qualities required to be successful police officer are emotional such as courage, compassion; humanity; patience etc, it is quintessential that the due weightage must be given to some kind of psychological variables during recruitment and training.
As members of a secular, democratic state the police should strive continually to rise above personal prejudices and promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities and to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women and disadvantaged segments of the society. This is possible only if we have the political will to bring in holistic police reforms. These reforms should aim at rectifying the present anomalies in structure, behavior, training and recruitment of police force. Above all the reforms should categorically aim at dismantling the police from the clutches of civilian authorities in day to day functioning and actions.

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