The Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, has his tasks cut out . His taking charge of the Home portfolio, a subject that is crucial to any State, especially in one such as U.P., which is riven by caste and religious intrigue, is noteworthy. How he is going to reshape the U.P. police force, which has serious issues with integrity and human rights, will be watched keenly.
Steps to efficiency
The State has the largest police force in the country, with an authorised strength of 3,63,000 personnel. Nearly 50% of posts are vacant. There are only 91 serving police personnel per 100,000 population, the national average being 143. I suppose nearly 90% of the vacancies are of the rank of constable, the level that makes or mars a force’s image. If the State government is serious about toning up police administration, it will first have to launch a recruitment drive with a deadline. This has to be a clinical process, free from corruption, political and bureaucratic.
Unfortunately, many States have earned notoriety for politicising the system of selection, often an exercise of “infiltrating” the police with ruling party cadres.
It is known that in many States, lists of those selected have to go to the Chief Minister’s office for approval. Further, there is a practice of releasing the list after collecting an illegal levy at a central point. One hopes that Mr. Adityanath puts an end to this practice. One way would be to revive the system of having a written examination — which was dispensed with by the previous government.
In Uttar Pradesh, for instance, the damage caused to policing in the State through blatant political interference makes one pause. It is alleged that the choice of officers to head the district police for instance was often shamelessly biased in favour of a particular caste, which one can imagine to be acutely demoralising for the rest. This was said to have created fissures in the force, with its resultant and adverse impact on the quality of policing.
In general, policing in the 10,000 and odd police stations across the country is lamentable because of insensitivity towards the victim. Instead of being centres where one can be assured of being given a patient hearing and given some assurance of there being justice, they have become venues for organised extortion and even ill-treatment. The lower down you are in the social ladder in terms of economic stature, the harsher is the reception accorded to you at a police station. This is not a new development, and is one that has been with us even before Independence. While the degree of police “misconduct” varies from State to State, U.P. is somewhere near the top. Without transforming the atmosphere at the grassroots, the public will continue to think twice about approaching a police station to lodge a complaint or seek redress of one’s grievance.
In right earnest
The fact that Mr. Adityanath paid a visit to the Hazratganj police station in Lucknow recently, taking policemen and officials by surprise, is a welcome development. His statement, that he has “come here to inspect as to how the rule of law is enforced in the State and gauge the morale of the police, and see what effective action can be taken in this regard,” is one that holds promise. One also needs to note that he laid emphasis on “the rule of law being established in the State”, and that it would not be his last inspection but only a beginning. Though symbolic, such unexpected acts should make police at the bottom of the hierarchy think about the road ahead. A candid account by Mr. Adityanath on what he has in mind would be useful.
Uttar Pradesh has had a history of communal riots and inquiry commissions have always reserved harsh words for the police. A common theme in their findings is one of delayed response and a distinct bias in favour of the majority community.
The fundamental point is the need for clear directions from the government — read Chief Minister — that there cannot be any politics here, that the higher echelons will be held accountable for any tardiness, and that there should be an urge to act swiftly and fairly, without looking up to the political machinery.
The Indian Police Service cadre has bright, honest and talented officers and it is not as if the U.P. police is found wanting in this area. Unfortunately, they have their hands tied as they seldom enjoy operational autonomy, a sine qua non for efficient and fair policing. This is a golden opportunity to reverse this sad situation especially as the new Chief Minister has the goodwill of the State, and also when the Centre too is keen to transform the State.
R.K. Raghavan is a former CBI Director