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INDIA MUST WAKE UP TO THE DIRE NEED FOR POLICE REFORMS

  • Category
    Polity & Governance
  • Published
    9th Jul, 2020

Given the current situation in India and most importantly with the newest episode of sensational brutality, it is more than time that India, woke up to the crying need for ‘police reform’ in our country.

Context

Given the current situation in India and most importantly with the newest episode of sensational brutality, it is more than time that India, woke up to the crying need for ‘police reform’ in our country.

Background

  • The deaths of Jayaraj and Bennix in Sathankulam town near Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu triggered massive outrage across the country and renewed a debate about police brutality.
  • On June 19, the Thoothukudi Police took Jayaraj and his son Bennix into custody for interrogation as they had kept their mobile accessories shop open during the coronavirus-induced lockdown.
  • A case was filed against them for not following the curfew under lockdown. They were later sent to the Kovilpatti sub-jail.
  • Relatives of the two victims accused the police of assaulting them in custody.
  • On June 22, Bennix complained of breathing problems and was admitted to a local government-run hospital. He later died at the facility. Jayaraj, who had also been admitted due to an illness, died the next day.

    Custodial deaths

    • Between April 2017 and February 2018, India recorded a staggering 1,674 custodial deaths, a rate of five custodial deaths per day, according to statistics placed by the Home Ministry before the Rajya Sabha.
    • Uttar Pradesh topped the list, with 374 deaths reported in this period of under a year.



Analysis

Understanding the structure

  • The Police force in the country is entrusted with the responsibility of maintenance of public order and prevention and detection of crimes.
  • Each state and union territory of India has its own separate police force. 
  • Article 246 of the Constitution of India designates the police as a state subject, which means that the state governments frame the rules and regulations that govern each police force.
    • These rules and regulations are contained in the police manuals of each state force.
  • The Police force in the state is headed by the Director General of Police/Inspector General of Police.
  • Ranges: Each State is divided into convenient territorial divisions called Each police range is under the administrative control of a Deputy Inspector General of Police.
  • A number of districts constitute the range. District police is further sub-divided into police divisions, circles and police-stations.
  • Besides the civil police, states also maintain their own armed police and have separate intelligence branches, crime branches, etc.
  • Police set-up in big cities like Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Nagpur, Pune, Bhubaneswar-Cuttack etc. is directly under a Commissioner of Police who enjoys magisterial powers.
  • All senior police posts in various states are manned by the Indian Police Services (IPS) cadres, recruitment to which is made on all-India basis.
  • The Central Government maintains Central Police forces, Intelligence Bureau (IB), Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Institutions for training of police officers and forensic science institutions to assist the state in gathering intelligence, in maintaining law and order, in investigating special crime cases and in providing training to the senior police officers of the state governments.

Analysing the myriad deficiencies in the existing system

  • Inappropriate control & direction: The superintendence and control of the police is a debatable issue. As per the police laws, both the Central and State police forces come under the superintendence and control of political executives. This has resulted in the lack of democratic functioning and appropriate direction.
  • Political influence: Police priorities are frequently altered based on the will of political executives. It seems that the police force has become a puppet in the hands of its political masters.
  • No check on police misconduct: There is no mechanism for registering a complaint against erring police officials. Both the Second Administrative Reform Commission and the Supreme Court have accepted the need for having an independent complaint authority to inquire into the cases of police misconduct.
  • Weak investigation: Over 50% of cases filed by the police (nearly 80% in rape cases) end up in acquittals. While there could be many reasons for this, a weak investigation by the police frequently recurs as the cause for cases being thrown out of court limiting the ability of citizens to get justice.
  • Rising of unlawful power: Unwarranted arrests, unlawful searches, torture and custodial rapes are becoming the normal things of the system.

Other side of the coin

  • Overburdened & underpaid: There is no denying in the fact that the police force is overburdened and underpaid.
  • Lack of manpower: India had (in 2017) 131 police officers per 1,00,000 people; that is lower than the sanctioned number (181), and much lower than the number recommended by the UN (222).
  • More workload, less efficiency: Clearly, “an average policeman ends up having an enormous workload and long working hours, which negatively affects his efficiency and performance”.
  • Dying motivation: Add to this poor working conditions and compensation, and it is, in fact, creditable that our police are as motivated as they are.
  • Medieval recruitment process: The Indian policing system also suffers from its century-old recruitment process. The recruitment process of police personnel, especially from lowest constabulary level to Sub-Inspector level, is medieval.
  • No growth: 86% of the police force are constables, who have no growth path other than a single promotion (to Head Constable) before they retire.
  • Obsolete and outdated weapons: Similarly, when it comes to weaponry, the police machinery is still using obsolete and outdated weapons. The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in its report also highlighted that the force continues to depend on outdated and unserviceable weapons.
  • Police mobility: Police mobility is another issue, which has been hampered by the shortage of police vehicles.
  • Poor communication network: Another problematic area relates to the communication networks. In an era of ICT, the police system is still struggling to get proper communication network.
  • Lack of funding: Police infrastructure is perennially underfunded, and, with some notable exceptions, there are few efforts to build public/police relations.

Supreme Court’s view on the issue

  • The Supreme Court has observed that there is a need to have an independent complaints authority to inquire into complaints of police misconduct
  • The Model Police Act, 2006 requires each state to set up an authority (akin to the Civilian Complaint Review Board in New York City) with five members:
    • a retired High Court Judge, a retired police officer of the rank of DGP from another state cadre
    • a retired officer with public administration experience from another state
    • a civil society member
    • a person with at least 10 years of experience as a judicial officer or lawyer or legal academic.

In 2018, the Supreme Court passed a slew of directions on police reforms in the country.

  • The court had recommended separation of police functions of investigation and maintaining law and order. It had ordered setting up of a Police Establishment Board to decide and make recommendations on transfers, postings, promotions and other service-related matters of police officers of and below the rank of DSPs.
  • It had also ordered setting up of a Police Complaints Authority in each state to look into complaints against officers of and above the rank of SP in cases of serious misconduct, including custodial death, grievous hurt or rape in police custody.
  • A National Security Commission needed to be set up at the Union level to prepare a panel for selection and placement of chiefs of the Central Police Organisations with a minimum tenure of two years, the apex court had ordered.

Major Committees for Police reforms

  • From time to time, several commissions have looked into the reform processes.
  • Till now, the following committees, including the National Police Commission, have been set up by the government. These committees made recommendations in favour of major police reforms. These include-
    • the Gore Committee on Police Training (1971-73)
    • the Ribeiro Committee on Police Reforms (1998)
    • the Padmanabhaiah Committee on Police Reforms (2000)
    • the Group of Ministers on National Security (2000-01)
    • the Malimath Committee on Reforms of Criminal Justice System (2001-03)

Despite recommendations from these committees, no substantial changes have been seen.

Committee

Year

Notes

National Police Commission (NPC)

1977-81

Established after the Emergency, the NPC produced 8 reports suggesting major reforms across a range of police issues.

Ribeiro Committee

1998

Established by the Supreme Court to review the lack of action taken to implement NPC recommendations and to re-frame a new police act

Padmanabhaiah Committee

2000

Dealt with the issues of politicization and criminalization of the police and police accountability.

Malimath Committee

2002-03

Suggested changes to the Indian Penal Code and outlined ways of improving judicial proceedings

Police Act Drafting Committee 1

2005

 

Drafted a new model Police Act to replace the 1861 Police Act.

Supreme Court

2006

 

SC issued seven directives to state police forces including setting up State Security Commissions, Police Establishment Boards and a Police Complaints Authority

Second Administrative Reforms

2007

 

Noted that police-public relations were unsatisfactory and suggested a range of reforms to change this

Justice Thomas Committee

2010

 

Highlighted the total indifference of state governments to police reforms

Supreme Court Directives

2018

 

New directives on police reforms and reviewed states progress in the implementation of the 2006 directives

The panacea to the problems

  • Addressing prejudice: Though addressing prejudice is a long and painstaking road—each of us needs to confront our own prejudices, address them as best we can, and continuously put the word out in our families and wherever we have any influence that there is really no fundamental difference between people, and that we are all citizens and one under the law. This effort can never stop.
  • Strengthening institution: In parallel, the government needs to work on the institutional side. The Model Police Act of 2006 was circulated to all the states; that very year, 17 states passed new laws or amended their existing laws in light of this new model law. There have been further evolutions since then, but many of its fundamental principles remain unfulfilled.
  • Specialised team: The police need to have specialised teams for each type of activity.
  • Important areas: The area which needs urgent attention include
    • police accountability
    • the need to separate law and order from investigation
    • poor working conditions and an overburdened police force
    • constabulary related issues
    • police infrastructure
    • public-police relations

Conclusion      

No doubt the situation is worse in India, but it can be corrected with strict measures. The country should now adopt few safeguards, such as accountability of the police to the political executive, internal accountability to senior police officers, and independent police oversight authorities. Increased accountability to the political executive can theoretically constrain operational freedom and flexibility, which, in the Indian context, is a serious concern. The time has come to transform the Police from ‘Ruler’s Police’ to ‘People’s Police.

 

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