Police Reforms: much known but less done

Recently, the Commission of Inquiry led by Justice (retd) Justice VS Sirpurkar, instituted by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India to investigate the ‘fake’ encounter of the 4 accused in the 2019 Hyderabad rape case involving a 26-year-old veterinarian ‘Disha’, had its report made public by the Court. The report lambasts the Hyderabad Police, for it’s ambiguity about the evidences presented in their defense and has indicted 10 police officers for lapses in the fake encounter killing and recommended they be tried for murder. Another interesting case was that of former Mumbai Police Commissioner Mr. Parambir Singh, who had levelled allegations of corruption against then Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh and is now one of the defendants in one of many cases lodged against him by the State Government of Maharashtra in the Supreme Court. During one of the hearings, Singh submitted in his petition that he didn’t have faith in the inquiry initiated against him by the Maharashtra government and suggested transfer of the case to another state. The Bench which was obviously shocked, said “You are part of Maharashtra cadre. You served the state for 30 years. And now you don’t trust the functioning of your own state? This is a shocking allegation!” Imagine a former Commissioner of Police distrusting the same police force that he headed. These two cases are some of the stark examples in the previous years which have shown the problems facing the Indian police. 

 In this background, let us discuss about chronic issues plaguing the police forces in India and the reforms suggested, if they have been implemented and if possible, devise new ways to improve the functioning of the police system.

The common citizens’ view of the Indian bureaucracy is not too favorable. The police are the frontrunners when it comes to a negative perception of dealing with government by citizens. Refusing to file a First Information Report (FIR), harassment for common clearances and permissions, petty fines demanded by police to skirt traffic violations are some of the common complaints’ citizens have about the police. But without passing judgement on the working of the police system, we need to understand the systemic framework within which they are working and the constraints they face while discharging their duties. 

The colonial Indian Police Act of 1861 forms the backbone upon which the country’s police system functions till date. The police system in our country is led by mainly Indian Police Service (IPS) officers, who are recruited through the coveted Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) Civil Services Examination. Recently, the Union Minister of State for Personnel Jitendra Singh through a written reply in the Lok Sabha informed that the number of recruitments of IPS officers had been increased from 150 to 200 every year. After undergoing training, these officers hold the post of Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) in their allotted state cadres during their field training and after completing a certain period of training, take up charge as Superintendent of Police (SP) who looks after the maintenance of law and order in a district. Working below them is a hierarchy of state-service officers who have been recruited through state-level exams and lower-level personnel like constables selected through open selection rallies.  Although the IPS officers enjoy a ‘fair’ amount of work-life balance, the lower-level personnel are overstressed, not paid well, receive inadequate training and are ill-equipped to deal with modern-day criminals. The State of Policing in India Report (SPIR) for 2019-20 prepared by NGOs Common Cause and Lokniti-Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, display these facts vividly.  An average police officer works for 14 hours a day, six hours more than what the Model Police Act recommends. A quarter of the respondents said they worked for more than 16 hours a day. Other than working overtime, every second police personnel reported not getting any weekly off day. Other than poor work-life balance, the police personnel also have to work with limited resources at their disposal. Some police stations lack basic facilities such as drinking water, clean toilets, transport, staff and funds for routine purchases. The survey report states that negative attitude towards registration of cases, use of violence on criminals and mob violence could be a reflection of the lack of proper and frequent training in human rights and caste sensitization. More than one in 10 personnel reported not having received training on human rights and caste sensitization.

Following are the reforms and suggestions in public domain which aim to construct a strong, people-friendly police force aiming to serve the people rather than self. The biggest hindrance facing the police more than anything is bridging the trust deficit that they face with the common citizen. The Janmaithri Suraksha (JM) Project of the Kerala Police is a fine example of community policing and involving the locals which serves the twin purposes of winning their confidence as well as aid the police in solving local crimes and intelligence gathering. Implemented in all 481 police stations in Kerala, a 2013 study done by Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Thiruvananthapuram found that by and large, society here is peaceful. Interestingly, a greater proportion of local people (87%) in non Janamaitri stations felt secure living where they did. That most of the stations covered were problem-free is indicated by the fact that only 16% of the Beat Officers in Janamaitri stations remarked that there are problems areas in their beat area. And almost all of them have not faced problems visiting such problem pockets. 80% of the beat officers in Janamaitri stations felt that their behavior towards people and complainants had changed since the implementation of JM.

The Police Mitra scheme launched in 2015 by different states in India is another example of engaging civilians having a clean record to aid the police in their daily activities, a fine example of community policing. This allows the citizens to first hand experience the working of the police personnel and the constraints they face while doing so. Sensitisation of police forces is important but schemes like this sensitise the citizens as well to the internal working of the police. This bridges the trust deficit between the police and citizens and mends their relationship from a confrontational and negative one to a co-operative and positive one. 

In 2006, in Prakash Singh vs Union of India & Or’s the Hon’ble Supreme Court had in a landmark judgement directed states to carry out police reforms. Some of the recommendations were: fixing the tenure and selection of the DGP (highest ranking police official in a state), establishment of Police Establishment Boards (PEBs) to free transfers and postings from the whims and fancies of political leaders, setting up of a State Police Complaints Authority (SPCA) where citizens could register their grievances against the police, separation of investigation and law and order functions and forming of State Security Commission (SSC) which will have members from civil society. The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), in its report on September 22, 2020 that tracked changes made in the police force following the 2006 judgment, found that not even one state was fully compliant with the apex court directives and that while 18 states passed or amended their Police Acts in this time, not one fully matches legislative models. Bigger states like Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh have not incorporated these reforms in their respective Police Acts and those who have done are just cosmetic changes with legal loopholes to bypass the judgement and exercise political control over the police. The core reason behind it is a sense of power and prestige which comes along with the entourage of a number of police personnel looking after your security and the respect it gives you. Former DGP of UP and Assam Police, Mr. Prakash Singh (retd) who was the main petitioner in the case, has followed it up with the court with five contempt petitions in court. 

As per data on Police Organisations compiled by Bureau of Police Research & Development (BPR&D), the ratio as on 01.01. 2020 of police personnel per lakh persons is 195.39 as per sanctioned strength and 155.78 as per actual strength. Facing a manpower crunch, with virtually impossible police to citizen ratio to fill the need of the hour is ‘Smart Policing’. The Janmaithri Suraksha Project and Police Mitra schemes need to be adopted nationwide, tweaked according to each state’s needs and police to population ratio. Investing in proper training and imparting latest and best practices in the training phase will sensitise police personnel to work better, having a better understanding of their society. Filling up vacant posts will result in reducing workload on existing personnel and will partially restore their skewed work-life balance which also results in them losing physical fitness. Police messes should incorporate healthy diets in their daily menus to provide a healthy meal and maintain fitness levels. A man cannot serve well if he isn’t assured of his family’s well-being and security. Housing colonies for the police (excluding the IPS officers) are dilapidated, cramped and have archaic structures, some planned and built during the British era. Good and affordable quality housing, in addition to more schools to cater to their children. This will ensure social security and motivate them to serve well. Finally, an urgent need to suitably amend and replace the Indian Police Act of 1861 to incorporate modern practices and techniques and to give a strong legal backing to the police force to carry out their work. 

The Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel National Police Academy (SVPNPA) which trains IPS officers has an interesting motto. ‘Satya Seva Surakshnam’ which means ‘Truth Service Security’. The police personnel in the country should recollect these words when they are serving in the field and not pay lip service to their political masters. In the words of the country’s first Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister, the architect of the All-India Services and after whom the police academy is named, Sardar Patel, “Yours (Police) is the responsibility to maintain the prestige of the Government and protect the honour of the citizens. It is not enough that you only detect crime and bring offenders to book. You must also try to win the affection of the people… A police officer or policeman who loses his head in handling a situation is not fit to be a member of the police force.”

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The views expressed in this article are the author's own.

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