Still awaiting police reform

It is time for the judiciary to step in and enforce the diktats it had passed in 2006

Updated - October 19, 2020 12:24 am IST

Published - October 19, 2020 12:15 am IST

Varanasi, India - March 4, 2015: Local police providing security cover on the occasion of a visit to the city by the Chief Minister of the Indian government

Varanasi, India - March 4, 2015: Local police providing security cover on the occasion of a visit to the city by the Chief Minister of the Indian government

Police brutality in recent months has turned quotidian. The thrashing of a Dalit Ahirwar couple by the police in Guna district of Madhya Pradesh on July 14 was very distressing. But for the media coverage, the incident would have gone unnoticed. The District Collector and the Superintendent of Police have been transferred and six police personnel have been suspended since the incident. The matter will soon be forgotten.

The public outcry following the brutal torture of J. Benicks and his father P. Jayaraj in Sattankulam town in Thoothkudi district of Tamil Nadu resulting in their death had still not died when news came that a gangster, Vikas Dubey, was killed by the Uttar Pradesh police in Kanpur when he allegedly tried to flee from custody. The police version of the incident was quite unbelievable. It looked like the law had been subverted.

Comment | Police reform and the crucial judicial actor

These incidents and several others show that we need immediate remedial measures lest the country witnesses an upheaval of the kind that the U.S. saw following the death of George Floyd. Should such a situation arise, it will be the political class that will squarely be held responsible, for it is they who have proved to be the stumbling block in the implementation of various apex court directives aimed at improving the functioning of the police.

Solutions that remain on paper

Commissions and committees are set up every time there are demands for police reforms after a major incident. Then the recommendations of such commissions and committees are simply consigned to the archives. But they are not forgotten as some senior police officials vociferously demand implementation of their recommendations from time to time.

The first serious attempt to overhaul the policing machinery was made when the National Police Commission (NPC) was set up in 1977. The NPC submitted eight reports to the Ministry of Home Affairs between 1979 and 1981. Seven of these reports were circulated to the States in 1983 with an annotation that “the Commission has been unduly critical of the political system or the functioning of the police force in general”. In a subtle manner, a signal had been sent. The report was put in cold storage until Prakash Singh, a retired IPS officer, filed a PIL in the apex court in 1996 demanding the implementation of the NPC’s recommendations.

Comment | The mystery of police reform

In 2006, the Supreme Court issued a slew of directives on police reform. These would have had a far-reaching impact had the States and the Centre paid any serious attention to them. But that would have upset the applecart of our politicians and even the bureaucrats, some of whom are known to be corrupt and mired in crime. According to a report by the Association for Democratic Reforms (2018), there were 1,580 MPs and MLAs facing criminal charges. Therein lies the crux of the matter.

Turning a blind eye

The one diktat that would hurt the most is the setting up of a State Security Commission (SSC) in each State which would divest the political leaders of the unbridled power that they wield at present. Of the States that constituted an SSC, only Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka have made SSC recommendations binding on the State government, according to the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative . Only six States provided a minimum tenure of two years to the Director General of Police (DGP). In Tamil Nadu, T.K. Rajendran, who was made DGP (Intelligence) and given full additional charge as DGP in September 2016, was formally appointed DGP on the day he attained the age of superannuation. Many States have not implemented a single directive of the Supreme Court.

Comment | Awaiting police reforms

Since expecting political will to implement police reforms is a far cry, it is for the judiciary to step in and enforce the diktats it had passed. Fourteen years is too long a period for any further relaxation. The Court has to come down heavily on the States and the Centre to ensure that its directives are not dismissed lightly. A bold step towards bringing down crimes is possible only when the politicians-criminals-police nexus is strangled.

M.P. Nathanael is Inspector General of Police (Retd), CRPF

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