Committees galore

THE FIRST political acknowledgement that police forces could be bent to serve the Government of the day was after the Emergency. Opposition leaders who were victims of the police's political pliability declared police reform a priority.

The 1977 Janata Party Government established the National Police Commission. Between 1978 and 1982 the NPC produced eight reports dealing with all aspects of police functioning, from their openness to corruption and political manipulation, their susceptibility to human rights violations to service conditions. It recommended, among other things, that:

— The Police Act, 1861, be replaced by a new Act.

— State Security Commissions be set up, to lay down guidelines for preventive and service-oriented functions of the police, evaluate police performance, and function as a forum of appeal from officers with complaints of being subject to illegal orders.

— The Chief of Police be appointed from a panel of three officers, prepared by a committee headed by the chairman of the UPSC and assured a fixed four-year tenure of office.

— Judicial inquiries be mandatory in cases of rapes and deaths in custody and of deaths of two or more persons in police firing.

— Strict, supervised, guidelines for making arrests.

— The protection available to police officers under Sections 132 and 197 of the Cr.PC be withdrawn so that a private complainant is free to go to court against a police official without first having to get permission from the competent authority to do so.

The Congress Government of 1984 disbanded the NPC and dumped its recommendations.

Prakash Singh, a police officer from Uttar Pradesh filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court asking that it direct the Government to implement the "four fundamental recommendations" of the NPC:

— A new Act to replace the Police Act, 1861.

— Creation of the State Security Commission.

— Selection and tenure of police chiefs.

— Separation of police's law and order functions and crime work.

There were minor variations between the writ petition and the NPC's recommendations such as the composition of the Commission and length of the police chiefs' assured tenure. The Supreme Court used this as a handle to ask for a review.

The Rebeiro sub-committee was set up in response. It upheld the substance of the writ petition. But made one significant and substantive dilution to earlier recommendations: that the state security committee should only be an advisory not a statutory body.

For over two years since the review was completed, the Supreme Court has failed to take up the matter. Another committee headed by K. Padmanabaiah was also set up to examine police reform. Its extensive recommendations echoed the NPC's and also incorporated standard police concerns with the Evidence Act.

The NDA Government has set up yet another committee headed by Justice Malimath. The Home Minister said previous commissions and committees had only looked at the police force.

The Malimath panel, with a fraction of the resources made available to the NPC, is to make a full and final pronouncement on the reform of the criminal justice system as a whole. — A.M.

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