Police reforms cannot be undertaken in isolation: Panel

Police reforms cannot be undertaken in isolation and require a holistic approach that includes re-assessment within the force and ensuring that the law enforcement agency does not have to toe political lines, said former Border Security Force Director-General Prakash Singh on Saturday at a panel discussion on “Police Reforms in the Context of the Verma Committee Report”, organised by the Indian Women’s Press Corps here.

Mr. Singh, on whose petition the Supreme Court came out with a judgment in 2006 directing the government to undertake police reforms, said: “Even the Justice Verma Committee has made it clear that police reforms cannot be undertaken in isolation. They have to be wholly restructured and undertaken in an integrated way and when that happens, the police will be able to equip themselves well to deal with terror, crime etc.”

Making a pitch for autonomy of the force, Mr. Singh said there have been numerous instances like the 1984 Sikh riots, the 1992 Babri Masjid demolition and the more recent carnage in Gujarat, where the police, instead of taking action as is their mandate, was reduced to follow the lead of the ruling party.

“In 1984, the police remained there, scared of taking action against the hoodlums of the ruling party. In Gujarat, those police officials who took some action were penalised….the police should be operationally independent,” Mr. Singh said.

Police reforms, he said, were not only important for ensuring democratic stability of the country, but also for sustaining economic progress.

Referring to members in State Assemblies and Parliament who have a criminal record, Mr. Singh said it is ironic that police personnel have to salute and protect people who should be behind bars.

“I think the greatest problems in the country are terrorism, Maoist insurgency and corruption. And to tackle these we fall back on the police — they are the first responders to any of these acts. We have to move from the rulers’ police to people’s police, because today the policeman’s first consideration is what the politician or the ruling party’s reaction will be to his actions.”

Mr. Singh, who has served as Director General of Police in Assam and Uttar Pradesh, even credited movements led by anti-graft crusader Anna Hazare, yoga guru Baba Ramdev and the recent students’ protests against sexual crimes against women for leading to a transformation that forced the government to come out with an ordinance to introduce stricter penalties for crimes against women.

Retired Indian Police Service (IPS) officer Kiran Bedi batted for “internal reforms” within the force and drew attention to the waning of good practices that have made policing ineffective. She was also critical of political interference and dishonesty in appointments.

“The Delhi Police Commissionerate that has crime prevention powers, has the wherewithal, is the best equipped city police in the country,” she said, adding the problems are the absence of communicative leadership and internal reforms.

Dr. Bedi criticised the suspension of the “beat system”, where police personnel forged a connection with the people in the area under their jurisdiction, the system of appointments not based on merit and no fixed tenure of appointments.

“Today, the police are considered to have succeeded if they manage to fight terrorism, secure VIPs and lathi-charge a crowd. What about the common man? There is no performance measurement, we need to revise the way we appraise the police,” she said.

Lack of housing, health, education facilities

Dr. Bedi also drew attention to the violations that the police personnel are subjected to. She pointed out to lack of housing, healthcare and education facilities for them and their families, and said: “They are an exploited class and they exploit in return.”

Maja Daruwala of a non government organisation Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative said the problems being faced today are an institutional bias, institutional illegality and abuse of power and chaos within the force.

She said despite having a roadmap for the past 30 years, little has been done by way of police reforms because there has been resistance from the political class and the police themselves. She said it is time to define what policing is for, creating a vision for the reforms and how to put it into practice.

  • ‘Many instances where police was reduced to following ruling party's lead, not taking action’

  • “Police considered successful if they manage to fight terrorism, secure VIPs, lathi-charge crowds”