Millennium Post

Overdue reforms

Clock’s ticking on the implementation of recommendations to improve the police system, insulating it from extraneous interferences and vested interests

Overdue reforms

September 22, 2006, is remembered for the Supreme Court's historic judgement where it attempted to usher the much-needed police reforms in India. Unfortunately, the directives have failed to translate on the ground. It has been 13 years and still, addressing challenges within the police force appears to be low on priority. In this significant judgment, the Supreme Court had three main directions. First, the state governments should institute a State Security Commission to insulate the police from any outside pressure or interference. Second, the setting up of a Police Establishment Board in an apparent bid to give autonomy to police personnel matters and third, setting up a Complaints Authority to ensure a higher level of accountability by the police. In addition to these observations, the Apex Court also recommended a transparent procedure to select the Director General Police (DGP), giving him and other supervisory officers who are serving in the field, a two-year tenure. It was also recommended that there should be separate officers for conducting investigations and maintaining law and order in metropolitan towns. Sadly again, these Supreme Court recommendations were meant to be implemented by the end of 2006 and over a decade later, they are yet to see the light of day.

The police in India is always under tremendous pressure, continuously grappling with multiple security challenges. Be it terror threats starting from Kashmir, or insurgency in the North East, meeting the challenge in the Maoist affected areas of the country, ensuring law and order, keeping the spiralling incidents of hate and organised crime under check, meeting cybersecurity challenges, being on top of complex investigations and catering to never-ending VIP duties – the list is long. The living conditions, particularly of the junior ranks remain below par and a simple first-look will reveal how they are grossly overworked, hassled and often directionless. Under these circumstances, other than the court directives under reference, it appears equally incumbent upon the senior police leadership to accept the challenges and lead from the front to provide dignity and pride to the much-battered force.

It is also expected from the same leadership to try and resist undue political pressure interfering in day-to-day crime control and matters of investigation. It is evident from the quality of investigations conducted in several cases that professionalism was scarce. It is high time the force introspects and goes to the extent of comprehending what ails the system; whether it is the 'chalta hai' attitude or the lack of any accountability, or even the absence of any visible direction by a section of the senior police leadership. A directionless police force runs the risk of gravitating towards the political class instead of their police seniors to seek comfort and job security.

Having said this, it must be emphasised that there are countless, very dedicated and professional police officials who have time and again excelled in rising to the challenge either in complex investigations or difficult law and order situations. If there was not active and result-oriented policing, the situation could have gone out of control in several states fraught with communal sensitivity and other menaces, where the police along with the Central Armed Police Force (CAPF) have been doing an excellent job. Significantly, there has been sharp intelligence-gathering and tight security to ensure national assets remain safe and national security cannot be compromised.

On its part, the police have to walk an extra mile in drastically reducing the trust deficit existing between police and public. It is a common public perception that unless one has the right connections in police or otherwise, even getting an FIR registered could be a monumental challenge. Such indifference on part of the police betrays the confidence of the general public and the gap between the common man and the men in uniform only widens. Unless the police can win people's trust, they will continue to be vilified. The beaten image of the police has to be restored and for that to happen, we do not need judicial recommendations. It can happen as we speak. Unless there is a robust collaboration between the public and police, it will be a losing battle for the police to earn respect from the taxpayers.

Most importantly, the political establishment also has to take a stand in ensuring that there is no interference on their part in the functioning of the police. If a politician is found guilty of doing so, they must take the lead and set an example by ensuring the party high commands take tough action. This will boost the confidence of police and enable them to be firm in the face of any possible political influence. If the police force remains demoralised and vulnerable to extraneous interference, their performance will be hit, directly impacting security as well as law and order – putting the common man at risk.

Fortunately, we have seen the Union Home Minster meet officers and men of a large number of police establishments including the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) in an attempt to boost morale through meaningful interactions. Such initiatives will ensure effective oversight over the police organisations with reinvigorated morale so the men in khaki can deliver better. It is expected that more such interactions will follow in due course and like new vistas opening in other sectors in India, the police would also get due attention so that it remains proactive to its responsibilities and functions and effectively handles any kind of security challenges threatening the country.

(The author is a retired IPS officer, a security analyst and a former National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister of Mauritius. The views expressed are strictly personal)

Shantanu Mukharji

Shantanu Mukharji

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