Thursday, 24 September 2015

The Case for Police Reforms

Back In 1861, Mahatma Gandhi was not yet born. The Uprising of 1857 was recent memory. Italy was a newly formed nation and Germany did not even exist. The light bulb, the car and the telephone had not yet been invented. That's how long ago it was. If you'll believe it, the police in nearly every Indian state is still governed by a piece of legislation (The Police Act, 1861) passed by our colonial masters 154 years ago (some states have enacted laws largely based on that act)!

Shocking as it sounds, here's an even more shocking fact: the Supreme Court issued a directive to state governments to implement a set of reforms pending passing of new legislation way back in 2006. Nearly a decade since then, those reforms are yet to see the light of day. To put it in a nutshell, the order provided for:


  • The creation of a watchdog body (State Security Commission) for protecting the police from political interference
  • A Minimum tenure of 2 years for police officials
  • Seperation of investigation from law and order maintenance, to ensure specialisation and greater efficiency in investigating
  •  A police establishment board consisting of senior officials, to decide on service related matters (including transfers, promotions and postings)
  •  An independent police complaints authority to look into and decide on any complaints against police officers
  •  Creation of a national security commission



The apex court's directions- especially the ones relating to security of tenure and taking away the power to transfer or deciding posting- would be anathema for our political class, long accustomed to using the police as an instrument to further its personal ends. 

Since the Supreme Court's orders are binding, the state governments have predictably done everything within their powers to make sure no action has been taken to date. Not surprisingly, none of the political parties have even raised this point in any election campaign so far, at least to my knowledge.

Is it any wonder that cases drag on for ages and conviction rates are so low? With little specialisation in investigation and gathering of evidence, the evidence produced by the police quite frequently fails to pass muster before the court. I'm not even talking about investigations being hampered by transfer of officials or political interference in the functioning of the police.

Unfortunately police reforms is hardly a subject likely to grab public attention, which accounts for the complete silence on the subject both from our politicians as well as the media. There is so little awareness about the fact, much less appreciation of it, that our state governments will continue dragging their feet over police reforms for several years to come. 

Until then, there's no protection for our protectors.

Notes:

  1. Policing is a state subject under Article  246(3), read with the Seventh Schedule to the Indian constitution, which means that the authority for making legislation and administration of police lies with the individual states, not the central Government in Delhi. Consequently, police reforms are not possible unless the initiative is taken by the states.
  2. The Supreme Court order directing the states to implement police reforms was in the case of (Prakash Singh & Others v Union of India (2006). Click here for a copy of the Supreme Court's order.

This is a reproduction of an article I wrote on the now defunct website www.thoughtsconnect.com in July 2013. Sadly, nothing has changed since then.