Police complaints authorities are a novel way to help the police to improve and the police management should see them as an opportunity to change their “long-standing patterns of bad behaviour and practice”, said Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) director Maja Daruwala.

“The complaints authority can not only bring to the notice of superiors the aggravating behaviour of members of the force, but more importantly if there is cooperation between the police and PCA, long-standing patterns of bad behaviour and practice can be changed and improved. The police management should be the first client of this opportunity and not feel defensive about it,” she said, speaking at a two-day roundtable organised here by CHRI, where the need to make PCAs more robust was discussed.

Almost six years ago, the Supreme Court had directed the States and the Centre to set up PCAs at the district and State level. These oversight bodies, however, said members at the roundtable, stand compromised today. The PCAs were intended to act as independent, easily accessible and transparent bodies that would help reduce the immunity enjoyed by policemen by providing a platform to the public to register complaints against “delinquent officers”.

Participants said that the concept that one can approach a body to complain against the police is still new, and bodies like PCAs are at a very nascent stage. Besides the challenges involved in establishing themselves, these bodies face strong resistance from the police.

The conference brought together stakeholders including the complaints authorities, police leadership and members of civil society to engage in dialogue and discuss measures to strengthen the complaints process. They also discussed how bodies like PCAs can effectively address police misconduct and the lack of accountability within the police department.

The existing PCAs also spoke about their share of problems. The Tripura PCA chairperson lamented that their recommendations were not binding, while the Chandigarh PCA chairperson stated that even though their recommendations were binding because of the Union Territory status, they were not being implemented. The roundtable called on the existing PCAs to work together, learn from each others' experience and most importantly draft rules so that it could function efficiently and independently.

The police reforms programme coordinator of CHRI, Navaz Kotwal, said there was stiff resistance from the political executive to set up oversight bodies like the PCA. “So far there are only ten functional PCAs on ground and 18 States including Delhi have set up PCAs only on paper. The Centre is the most rogue in terms of setting up these bodies. Delhi does not have a PCA and the new police acts are so retrogressive that the Police Act of 1861 was much better.”

She further spoke about how these bodies have been compromised in terms of composition, mandate, selection process, lack of funding and awareness among people.