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Insights into Editorial: Towards a more humane police force

 

Context:

Recently, Chief Justice of India expressed concern at the degree of human rights violations in police stations in the country.

Chief Justice of India said that “the threat to human rights and bodily integrity is the highest in police stations”. He also said that “in spite of constitutional declarations and guarantees, lack of effective legal representation at the police stations is a huge detriment to detained persons”.

However, a reality check shows that the picture is not so bleak and efforts are being made to improve the human rights protection regime in police stations.

 

Deaths in police custody:

  1. Deaths in police custody are indeed a matter of grave concern. Each such death must be seriously inquired into, to unravel the truth.
  2. National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data reveal that though the number of custodial deaths varies year to year, on average of about 100 custodial deaths have taken place every year between 2010 and 2019.
  3. Of them, about 3.5 persons allegedly died due to injuries caused by policemen, 8.6 while escaping from custody, 28.1 due to suicide, and the rest due to various reasons like illness and injuries caused in road accidents.
  4. Though every death in custody needs to be prevented, suspicious deaths which bring disrepute to the police system must be rooted out completely.
  5. The foremost measure to reduce instances of custodial violence is to reduce the number of arrests.
  6. The Supreme Court held that each arrest must be necessary and justified; having the authority to arrest is alone not sufficient.
  7. In Special Action Forum v. Union of India (2018), the Court further held that the police officer shall furnish to the magistrate the reasons and materials which necessitated the arrest for further detention of the accused.
  8. The purpose of these checks is to ensure that the police does not abuse the power of arrest.

 

Various committees’ recommendations regarding Police Reforms:

  1. The National Police Commission (1977-81), the Law Commission in its 154th report (1996) and the Malimath Committee Report (2003), among others.
  2. The Supreme Court in Prakash Singh v. Union of India (2006), have recommended that the investigating police should be separated from the law-and-order police to ensure better expertise in investigation.
  3. It was suggested that the separation start in towns which have more than 10 lakh population.
  4. It is believed that a separate wing will do more professional investigation and will not use unwarranted methods to extract confession from the accused.
  5. The Central Bureau of Investigation and the National Investigation Agency have already earned the reputation of the country’s premier investigation agencies.
  6. Though efforts have been made by some States in this direction, more resources are required in policing to implement the Court’s directions.
  7. Though the total police force has increased in the last five years, the civil police mostly remain over-stretched.
  8. Therefore, unless investigating officers are increased in proportion to the number of serious offences, the quality of investigation may suffer.
  9. The Malimath Committee’s recommendation that an investigating officer should preferably investigate no more than 10 cases every year will continue to remain a dream.

 

Police reforms linked to country’s progress:

  1. The police are the central pillar of the criminal justice system and if that is not improved other organs of the system will not be able to work efficiently. It must be revived, strengthened, restructured, reformed.
  2. The Supreme Court issued a judgment on police reforms on 22 September 2006, but despite clear instructions, the recommendations have still not been fully implemented.
  3. In its verdict, the top court had directed setting up of three new institutions — State Security Commission to insulate the police from outside pressure, Police Establishment Board to give autonomy to police officers in personnel matters, and Police Complaints Authority to make the police more accountable.
  4. The court had also prescribed a procedure for the appointment of Director General of Police and the separation of investigation of crime from law and order in the metropolitan towns.

 

Usage of Technology in Police stations:

  1. With the increase of newer types of crime like white collar crime and cybercrime, subject experts are needed to assist the police in the investigation.
  2. Further, in order to check the violation of human rights, CCTV cameras have been installed in police stations.
  3. In Paramvir Singh v. Baljit Singh (2020), the Supreme Court has directed States to cover more area of each police station under CCTV cameras and have storage facility of audio-video recording for 18 months.
  4. An independent committee shall study the footage and periodically publish reports of its observations.
  5. Thus, sufficient steps are being taken to ensure that the abuse of human rights is minimised.
  6. Custodial death is perhaps one of the worst crimes in a civilised society governed by the rule of law.
  7. The guilty, therefore, must be punished severely for his misconduct and criminal act.
  8. NCRB data show that on average about 47.2 criminal cases were registered annually against policemen in last 10 years.
  9. Departmental action against errant officers is a rule in the police force, rather than an exception.
  10. The National Human Rights Commission also oversees deaths in custody due to human rights violations and recommends compensation in appropriate cases.

 

Way Ahead: Protecting human rights

  1. The police officers must know that their mandate is to protect human rights and not violate them.
  2. They need to be sensitised regularly and encouraged to employ scientific tools of interrogation and investigation like the lie detection test, narco test and brainfingerprinting test.
  3. The Home Ministry has recently linked the ‘police modernisation scheme’ with police reforms.
  4. Unless sufficient action is taken by the State governments and the police authorities, incentives in the form of additional funds will not be released.
  5. Clear separation of law and order and crime functions of the police. Need to fill up the huge vacancies in the police and upgrade its infrastructure in terms of housing, transport, communications and forensics.
  6. Police should be a SMART Police – a police which should be strict and sensitive, modern and mobile, alert and accountable, reliable and responsible, tech-savvy and trained.

 

Conclusion:

The CJI’s suggestion to install display boards on human rights to disseminate information about the constitutional right to legal aid and availability of free legal aid services may deter police excesses.

Implementing Supreme Court’s directions in Prakash Singh case that police must be service oriented for the citizenry in a manner which is efficient, scientific and consistent with human dignity.

It is high time that Government considers bringing police in the “concurrent list” of the Constitution.

Our commitment to the protection of human rights is unconditional and total. Many steps have been taken so far to check custodial violence and no stone shall be left unturned to eliminate such violence in toto.