As a three-term Chief Minister of Gujarat, > Prime Minister Narendra Modi may rightly be expected to know a thing or two about policing, both in urban and rural India . Without pampering the force — as many Chief Ministers do for winning their loyalties — I understand he gave the Gujarat Police the tools and the incentives it very much needed. He had many admirers as also a few detractors for the unique style of administration that he brought to the State. Every officer knew that the Chief Minister was meticulous and a hands-on-machine man, who preferred to hear how a problem could be solved, rather than why it could not. Anybody who sulked was given marching orders.
This is the style he has now brought to the corridors of administration in the nation’s capital, much to the chagrin of many senior civil servants who were content with just pushing pens. This was also perhaps the message that he wanted to send down the police ranks in the country by opting to hold the customary annual meeting of >State Directors General of Police (DGP) outside the miasmic, and therefore stultifying, ambience of the national capital.
The venue was Dhordo, against the enchanting backdrop of the Rann of Kutch in rural Gujarat. He may be accused of being chauvinistic in deciding to meet the police chiefs in his native State. But he has to be lauded for the unconventional shift in locale, made with a view to ensuring that the participants were not inhibited or stifled in any way giving feedback to the country’s CEO as to where the shoe pinched.
Dialogue in the Rann This was the first time in independent India that a >Prime Minister was spending three full days with the police top brass , trying to fathom what the latter thought of the current ills of policing. Apart from listening seriously to formal presentations and intervening whenever needed, he also made sure he spent enough time informally across the breakfast, lunch or dinner table. This way, every delegate got a chance to speak to him and the Union Home Minister freely. I am sure both had the benefit of a feedback that many DGPs would have shied away from, in any open forum. It is interesting to speculate what they told their respective Chief Ministers about this exercise when they got back home. It certainly would not have been a blow-by-blow account, because many Chief Ministers are not exactly comfortable with their senior bureaucrats getting cozy with the Centre.
Mind you, all those participating in the conference, including Mr. Modi, lived in tents for the duration of the conference. I am told the tents were certainly not modest, but it was not exactly five-star luxury. Could you have had a more austere and informal setting for thrashing out some of the fundamental and critical issues facing policing in the country?
The cynics among us may dismiss all this as a gimmick; one that does not take you far beyond the cosmetic. The point, however, is that nobody before Mr. Modi had ever tried to engage top police officers in a dialogue of this kind, and for such a length of time. This is why I strongly believe the conference was not a run-of-the-mill affair. Prime Minister Modi is trying to change the format of any minister-civil servant interaction, with his emphasis on results produced and systems overhauled. During the conference in Kutch, his theme was how to improve policing at grass-roots level and how to make the policeman at the cutting edge more sensitive to the needs of the common man. What he told the heavyweight gathering may not have been anything new or revolutionary. But it packed a lot of common sense.
We know that the Achilles heel of the Indian Police is the inadequately staffed, under-equipped, and soulless police station, something that has brought ignominy to the whole force. At very few police stations, even now, can you get a complaint registered without greasing the palm of the station house officer or his minions. This is shameful but true. Mr. Modi demands a change in the profile of police stations, so that they become truly efficient service centres and cease to be dens of corruption, where torture is practised systematically against the poorest of citizens. He pushed this theme passionately at the conference. He believed that once this was done measurably, the police image would transform by itself, without any specific endeavour. Who can counter this logic?
‘Smart’ policing The Prime Minister is not a revolutionary in what he says. But he is certainly one in the manner in which he is trying to push his down-to-earth reform agenda for the police. I am reminded of what my mentor, Prof. David Bayley of the State University of New York, Albany, always used to say about policing. In his view, what we need is not more policing, but what can rightly be called “smart” policing. There are limits to government spending on the police. The latter should learn to utilise available sources with the greatest skill and economy, and not fritter them away in wasteful exercises. Prof. Bayley is an Indophile who does not miss any opportunity to come to India and mingle with the amazing number of friends he has in the Indian Police.
Another of Mr. Modi’s themes at the Kutch conference was police use of technology so as to get the best out of their resources in the quickest and most efficient manner. How I wish he monitors, along with Union Minister of Home Affairs Rajnath Singh, certain age-worn schemes of the Union Home Ministry, such as police modernisation. Definite strides have no doubt been made here. These are, however, not enough, and it should greatly help if the Prime Minister personally drives the mission to make the Indian Police truly technology-savvy.
Centre and State lists Where does all that happened in Kutch fit in with India’s constitutional framework? “Police” is a State subject under List II, Entry 2 of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution. (“Public Order” is one entry ahead in the same list and schedule.) This is a rigid distribution of powers, something that our founding fathers debated extensively and settled for. They believed that the States comprising the quasi-federal structure needed control over the police if they were to be truly effective in maintaining public order. As things stand, the Centre cannot create a police force which enjoys powers conferred by the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC). (The constitutionality of the National Investigation Agency under the Union Home Ministry is a matter of debate.)
This is why all paramilitary forces like the Border Security Force, Central Reserve Police Force and Central Industrial Security Force are not police forces in the real sense of the term. They have only limited powers of arrest and detention, and they ultimately depend on the State police for their day-to-day operations. Even the Central Bureau of Investigation has to get the consent of the State government to exercise powers of investigation outlined in the CrPC when it operates in a State. This is why the Centre and the States will have to work in harmony and beyond considerations of politics.
Unfortunately, the past few years have been rough. There have been specific instances involving senior Indian Police Service (IPS) officers serving in the States, who were pushed into controversy for no fault of theirs. Instances such as States not releasing IPS officers for Central deputation, and the Union Home Ministry snatching away IPS officers from States without the latter’s consent, have all caused a lot of friction and embarrassment. Yet, if you ignore these as mere aberrations, there is a generally healthy relationship between New Delhi and the States in the matter of strengthening the police, especially in times of crises.
This is how it should be in a civilised democracy. Viewed from this perspective, the conference in Kutch was a landmark, where there was a frank exchange of views on how to bring the police closer to the people, an objective that has been only partially fulfilled. There is an acute need to divorce politics from policing, and conferences like these are milestones towards that objective. There is just no place here for cynicism.
(R.K. Raghavan is a former CBI Director.)