Rajya Sabha TV: Security Scan – Police Reforms
A democracy is premised on the sanctity of law and this legislation is derived from the Constitution. In the Indian case, a nascent democratic republic adopted one of the most comprehensive and visionary Constitutions in the world in January 1950. The legislation that flowed from this Constitution was indeed democratic, equitable and inclusive but the institution that was to enforce the laws continues to be based on a colonial Police Act of 1861.
Furthermore, the police is an exclusive state subject and the Central Government has its limitations in this domain. For the citizens, the police as an institution does not inspire the confidence it should and there have been many institutional failures as well with quality and personal integrity being more visible. In the extreme, the guardian has often been termed predator and even NHRC noted that there were 206 cases of encounter killings in the last 12 months. Police reforms paradoxically were first mooted in 1902 when a colonial administration was concerned about the same issues- corruption and poor professionalism. More recently in 1996, one of India’s most respected police officers Mr. Prakash Singh filed a PIL in the Supreme Court for speedy police reforms. This issue received the highest judicial endorsement in September 2006. Yet, 10 years later, the progress in this regard has been modest.
At present it can be said that there is some kind of a stalemate because for the last 1 year there has been no forward movement. Judiciary which really gave push to the police reforms issue, the case has not been listed in the Supreme Court for last 1 year. The States and the Centre have not been very enthusiastic about police reforms. Earlier, Supreme Court gave a set of 7 directions. 17 states have passed legislation and remaining have passed executive orders which dilute or modify the Supreme Court directions. The expectation would be that these laws are in accordance with the Supreme Court directives but going into the minute details, one would find that these laws were passed to circumvent the provisions of Supreme Court. There is a clear reluctance on the part of the political class, bureaucracy and police leadership to push the matter forward.
The good thing is there is a broader political awareness about the need for police reforms. Some states like Kerala and Telangana have tried to take the process forward. We have a Constitution that is based singularly on Fundamental Rights but if one cannot get the remedy for the rights, it is of no use. The first responder here is police who are unresponsive or incapable or too few in number, then it is impossible to get the remedy. In areas of conflict for instance, the police is repeatedly seen to be a part of the process that creates the conflict because they are so unjust and partial. The police is not only working on colonial rules but is also feudal and militaristic. It should be policing with consent. One cannot have internal security without having a change in the vision of what police should be like.
Police constables hired are in the scale of Class 4 category that is unskilled labour and then they are expected to do modern scientific policing. This is a question of not only legal reform but of capacity and resources. The British did not want a police to enforce law but they wanted a police force that would ensure order and would ensure order in the quickest way possible. This is essentially the model India has relied on till date. Police modernisation budgets have been slashed, hiring expenses have been slashed etc and yet it is expected that the police should perform.
Recruitments though are very tainted but there is an improvement now. There are some agencies which are not in favour of reforms. For politicians, the present system suits them because they are able to use and misuse the police. Public opinion is the way ahead. Police leadership and political will also matters a lot in this regard. Apart from money issue, there is also a need to look into the structure. Where does the money goes has to be looked into. A policeman at the lower level is living in extreme conditions. He/she should live with his/her community, mingle with them so that he/she can stop the crime in that community if any such case happens rather than keeping them isolated in police lines.
The economic superstructure which we are trying to raise need good law and order which is stable. In Haryana, there was lack of professional police who failed to control the situation due to reservation agitation. The police system basically collapsed.
India has a formidable challenge by way of policing. In the first case, it is a very large country with a billion plus citizens. Political interference has eroded the credibility of the institution. Parliament has said that against the sanctioned strength of 181 police personnel per 1 lakh population, India currently has only 136 police personnel. This complex and unbalanced ecosystem is not conducive to the functioning of an equitable law and order infrastructure that must underpin a robust democracy.