Police reforms have been a talking point for years but remain a non-starter. The Government must prioritise this in the few months left of its term
On September 22, 2006, the Supreme Court had delivered what’s often called a historic judgement on police reforms. The Court had spelt out seven directions — six to the State Governments and one to the Union Government. Many termed this a logical culmination of decades of efforts to reform and reorient the Indian Police, which had traditionally been beset by myriad problems, besides lack of efficiency, transparency and modernisation. The verdict, many thought, would kick-start the process of providing autonomy to the Police, besides freeing it from what many call the nefarious politician-bureaucrat nexus. One should have been be at New Delhi’s India International Centre on September 22 to know that we are far from realising anything like this. The day is observed as Police Reforms Day by the Indian Police Foundation (IPF), a multi-disciplinary think-tank for building professionally efficient and socially sensitive police. It is led by some of India’s finest Indian Police Service (IPS) officers, including Prakash Singh, N Ramachandran and K Vijay Kumar.
“The foundation believes that transformative changes in the Indian Police is possible through reforms that are both bold and practical, a well-calibrated series of collective action by the Police, the Central and State Governments and the citizen stakeholders, to drive a nation-wide campaign for change,” said Ramachandran, president and CEO, IPF. It is here that the September 22 deliberation titled, ‘Future of Policing — Vision 2050’, that witnessed participation from a large number of stakeholders, holds significance.
Dr Satya Pal Singh, Minister for State for Human Resource Development, and a former IPS officer, hit the bullseye when he said, “It’s the bureaucratic stranglehold that has hampered police reforms and bureaucrats often come in the way of it.” He said vested interests within the system, including politicians and bureaucrats, wanted the system to remain as it is because it serves their interests better. Looking at the pace of Police reforms, or lack of it, in the wake of the 2006 verdict, one is inclined to conform to Singh’s belief. The Supreme Court had asked the States to establish a State Security Commission for immunity of Police from external pressure; a Police Establishment Board to give autonomy to police officers in personnel matters; police complaints authority for higher accountability of policemen. Other than this, States were also asked to separate investigations from law and order; procedure for selection of Director General of Police (DGP) was laid down and all those performing operational assignments were to be given a minimum tenure of two years. The Union Government was asked to set up a National Security Commission to shortlist candidates for appointments as chiefs of the Central Armed Police Forces.
According to a 2016 report of NITI Aayog, “Building SMART Police in India: Background into the needed Police Force Reforms”, of 35 States and UTs (excluding Telangana), State Security Commissions had been set up in all but two States, and Police Establishments Boards in all States. Jammu & Kashmir and Odisha had not set up State Security Commissions by August 2016. The report pointed out that the composition and powers of the State Security Commissions and the Police Establishment Boards were at variance with the Supreme Court directions. For example, in States such as Bihar, Gujarat and Punjab, the State Security Commission were dominated by Government and police officers.
Prakash Singh, former BSF and Chairman of IPF said: “The Court’s directions are yet to be implemented in letter and spirit. Seventeen States have passed Acts purportedly in compliance of the Court’s directions but essentially to circumvent them. The remaining States have passed executive orders which are in violation of the judicial directions.” He also pointed that the Supreme Court appointed Justice Thomas Committee, which was appointed by the apex court to monitor implementation of directions in various states, in its report in 2010, had conveyed its “dismay over the total indifference to the issue of reforms in the functioning of police being exhibited by the states”. Justice JS Verma Committee, constituted to recommend amendments to the Criminal Law for expeditious trials and stringent punishment for criminals accused of committing sexual assault against women, advised “all States to fully comply with all six Supreme Court directives in order to tackle systemic problems in policing which exist today.”
On the face of it, little seems to have changed all these years and Police reforms remain a non-starter despite sustained high-pitch campaigns by many. It is a known that robust law and order forms the backbone of economic progress of a country, and as India yearns to push its pace of development, it is essential that this vital prerequisite is addressed in the earnest. One is often reminded of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of SMART — sensitive, mobile, accountable, responsive and tech-savvy police — and how it remains a pipe dream, owing to the indifference of multiple stakeholders. Given that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is in power across many States, the Prime Minister should push for his vision, else Police reforms shall remain one of the most debatable issues in India.
(The writer is a strategic communications professional)