Indian Express
Prakash Singh

Prakash Singh writes: The future of India is linked to police reforms. If the country is to progress and emerge as a great power, there is no alternative to radical reforms in the police

Sixteen years ago, on September 22, 2006, the Supreme Court gave a landmark judgment on police reforms. It raised great expectations. It was generally felt that a new era would begin for the police; that it would become accountable and people-friendly, and that it would give primacy to upholding the rule of law. The police fraternity has since been observing September 22 as Police Reforms Day. There has been some half-hearted compliance with the judicial directions but generally, the states have shown — as Justice Thomas Committee recorded — “indifference to the issue of police reforms”.

Shall we, therefore, give it up as a lost case in the face of political opposition and administrative stone-walling? The stakes are too high. I would like to give 10 reasons why the country must push for police reforms.

One, the Prime Minister, in his Independence Day speech, gave a clarion call for erasing all the vestiges of colonialism. The Police Act of 1861, which governs substantially the functioning of police even today, is a symbol of colonial rule. It was promulgated to have a police that would be “politically useful” — one which would ensure the dominance of the imperial masters over a subject people. Significantly, the British devised a system of different policing for themselves, where police officers, according to Lord Denning, were “answerable to the law and the law alone”. But, for Indians, they followed the Irish model, which enabled the executive to have complete authority over the police. Unfortunately, the system has not been changed even seven decades after Independence.

Two, we have one of the fastest growing economies in the world. We are proud of it. However, what most people do not realise is that this progress would have been even faster if the country did not have such serious challenges to its internal security, which sapped the economy of the country. According to the Institute for Economics and Peace, violence cost the country 7 per cent of its GDP in 2020. Economic development depends on sound law and order and we can have good law and order only if we have professional police.

Three, we are proud of our democracy. However, it has been vitiated by the infiltration of persons of questionable background. According to the Association of Democratic Reforms, the percentage of such people in Parliament has been showing a steady upward trend. It was 24 per cent in 2004, 30 per cent in 2009, 34 per cent in 2014 and 43 per cent in the last election held in 2019. The trend is disturbing. The police, under the circumstances, feel hamstrung in taking action against this segment of people and their supporters who have a shady background and who may one day devour the very system that has placed them in power.

Four, the police are not able to deal with the internal security challenges as effectively as they should. Jammu & Kashmir has been witnessing unrest for the last 30 years; the Maoist problem has been festering for more than 50 years and there have been multiple insurgencies in the Northeast for more than 60 years. It is not that these problems cannot be contained. Unfortunately, we have no internal security doctrine with the result that the problems are tackled as per the perception of the ruling dispensation at any given point in time. The state police forces are in shambles and find themselves incapable of tackling these problems decisively.

Five, people, in general, do not have confidence in the police. This is particularly true of the lower strata of society, who feel that there is one law for the poor and another for the rich and powerful. This has to change. And that will only happen if the police are insulated from the influence of those with political or financial clout.

Six, law and order problems are becoming more complex with every passing year. Organised crime has acquired international dimensions. Arms trafficking and drug trafficking do not observe any borders. Cybercrimes are increasing in geometrical progression. These problems require a very high level of sophistication and expertise on the part of the police. They would be able to achieve that only if the politicians stop looking at the police as an instrument to promote their narrow partisan ends.

Seven, the police are not able to deliver partly because of poor infrastructure. There are huge deficiencies in human resources. Overall, there is a vacancy of more than 5,00,000 personnel. These must be filled. There is huge scope for improvement in transport, communications and forensics as well.

Eight, poor housing conditions and long working hours have an adverse impact on police performance. The National Police Commission had recommended 100 per cent family accommodation for all non-gazetted police personnel. The satisfaction level today is hardly 31.24 per cent. According to the Status of Policing in India Report, 2019, an average policeman works for 14 hours a day and does not get any weekly off. This takes a heavy toll on his mental and physical health. We should have 12-hour shifts straightaway and gradually aim to achieve eight-hour shifts.

Nine, there is enormous scope for technological inputs into the functioning of the police. These inputs would act as a force multiplier. The Prime Minister, while addressing senior police officers of the country at Lucknow on November 21, 2021, called for the setting up of a high-powered technology mission to adopt future technologies for fulfilling grassroots policing requirements. This needs to be taken up as a priority.

Ten, police reforms must extend to its different wings at the Centre also. It is very strange that the CBI does not have statutory support and that this powerful organisation, created on the basis of a resolution passed on April 1, 1963, derives power to investigate from the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946. It is an anomalous arrangement. Another powerful organisation, the Intelligence Bureau, which was set up through an administrative order in 1887, also needs a statutory basis.

The future of India is linked with police reforms. If the country is to progress and emerge as a great power, there is no alternative to radical reforms in the police.

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