Police reforms in India, need of the hour

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Police are one of the ubiquitous organizations of the society and are expected to be the most accessible, interactive and dynamic. Black’s law dictionary defines Police as the ‘branch of the administrative machinery of government which is charged with the preservation of public order and tranquillity, the promotion of the public health, safety, and morals, and the prevention, detection, and punishment of crimes.’

Police perform a multifaceted role in society; however, the maintenance of law and order is the most important task of the police. Under the seventh schedule of Constitution of India, the police come under state subject.

As the Indian society and the nation is itself strengthening in the international arena, the domestic institutions are still not able to keep the pace and tend to remain inadequate in terms of efficiency. Police is one such institution. The entire police system is lagging behind and continues to remain the colonial legacy. Keeping the multifarious role of the police in the view, it is therefore expected that the police should be the most accessible, interactive and dynamic organizations in the society. But, due to a large number of flaws in the system, the entire police system is not able to meet the expectations.

Police reforms have been on the agenda of Governments almost since independence but even after more than 70 years, the Police is seen as selectively efficient, unsympathetic to the underprivileged. In this regard, one is required to note that the basic framework for policing in India was made way back in 1861, with little changes thereafter, whereas the society has undergone dramatic changes, especially in the post-independence times. The public expectations from police have multiplied as newer forms of crime have surfaced. The policing system needs to be reformed to be in tune with the present-day scenario and upgraded to effectively deal with the crime and criminals, uphold human rights and safeguard the legitimate interests of one and all.

Accountability has always been a major issue of constraint in the policing system. Accountability in the context of governance means that public officials have an obligation to be answerable for their actions. Presently, police have the authority to exercise their powers to enforce the law and maintain order in the state. However, the regular instances of unwarranted arrests, unlawful searches, torture and custodial rape make it clear that the powers conferred on police forces are widely misused. The police system is not only unaccountable to common masses, but also to its own employees as police personnel are themselves subjected to frequent and arbitrary transfers and are highly exposed to the political pressure. In matters of transfers and promotions, the political executive has an important say. Decades of partisan policing, politically motivated refusal to register complaints, arbitrary detention, and torture and killings sometimes perpetrated by police at the behest of national and state politicians have resulted in an unprecedented level of public distrust and fear of the police.

Brutal and barbaric policing practices are still a harsh reality and need reiterated public condemnation. At the same moment, a mindlessness condemnation of Indian police and security forces is scarcely the way forward. Deeper findings in the matter subject out of various issues of constraints in the system from constabulary related matters to inflexible duty times and overburdening the rate of suicide amongst the policemen is rising. In a report published by National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) a worrisome fact was revealed that amongst 70 per cent of suicides in the uniformed services are committed by persons below the age of 44 years.

A high percentage of vacancies within the police forces aggravate an existing problem of overburdened police personnel. Police personnel discharge a range of functions related to crime prevention and investigation; maintenance of internal security and law and order; various miscellaneous duties like traffic management, disaster rescue and removal of encroachments. Each police officer is also responsible for a large segment of people. While the United Nations recommended standard is 222 police per lakh persons, India’s sanctioned strength is 181 police per lakh persons. Therefore, an average policeman ends up having an enormous workload and long working hours, which negatively affects his efficiency and performance.

In recent times, Human right issues have also assumed a centre stage in the discussion of the police reforms. It has been found that because of lack of interrogation techniques; lack of scientific temper and excessive political and official pressure for quick results, human rights are being violated by the police forces. There has been an increase in the frequency of fake encounters and illegal detentions.

To review the police training programs, Gore Committee was appointed in 1971. Later, in the decade of 70s when JP Movement was on its full swing, reforms in Police system emerged as one of the objectives of Jayaprakash Narayan’s ‘Total Revolution’. Jayaprakash Narayan came up with his notion of ‘People’s police’.

In 1977, after the emergency, the National Police Commission was established to review the system and to further provide suggestions. The Vohra Committee was constituted by the government of India in 1993 under the chairmanship of N.N. Vohra, then home secretary to examine the problems of criminalization of politics and the nexus among criminals, politicians and bureaucrats. Subsequently, in 1998, the Ribeiro Committee came out with its reports and recommended to establish District Police Complaint Authority and Police Establishment Board to foster accountability.

The Padmanabhaiah Committee on Police Reforms was set up by the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India in January 2000. It recognized in its report that the deep-rooted Corruption as the cause behind the politicization of police and made 154 major recommendations.

In 2000, a committee under Chairmanship of Justice VS Malimath was constituted to recommend measures for revamping Criminal Justice System. The committee in its report emphasized the need for a new police act. The report stated “The police system in the Country is functioning under the archaic Indian Police Act which was enacted in 1861 for the perpetuation of the British Empire. The police now have an obligations and duty to function accordingly to the requirements of the Constitution, law and democratic aspirations of the people.”

In October 2005, the Police Act Drafting Committee (PADC) was formed under the chairmanship of Dr Soli Sorabjee and it was given the responsibility to draft a new model police act. In drafting the Model Police Act, the committee was guided by the need to have a professional police ‘service’ in a democratic society, which is efficient, effective, responsive to the responsibilities of the police and emphasizes that the police will be governed by the principles of impartiality and human rights norms, with special attention to the protection of weaker sections.

In September 2006, Hon’ble Supreme Court of India delivered a historic judgment in Prakash Singh v. Union of India (2008 (8) SCC 1) instructing the Central and State Governments to comply with a set of seven directives laying down practical mechanisms to kick-start police reform. This judgment is considered as the first tangible step towards police reform in a long time.

Pursuant to Prakash Singh v. Union of India and other judgments and reports relating to police reforms, the Jammu and Kashmir Model Police Act was drafted in 2013. The proposed draft was based on Soli Sorbajee’s Model Police Act and the Kerala Police Act. The Home department of the state sought some feedback from NGOs, civil society and the general public. However, the bill couldn’t be introduced and subsequently, there was no headway in the direction of police reforms in the state.

Keeping the plight of earlier initiatives and new challenges in the light it is exigent that more needs to be done than mere structural changes within the existing system. The recommendations purposed by the earlier committees and the directives of the Supreme Court in Prakash Singh case have already enlightened the way to bring reforms therefore, it is vital that the agenda of Police Reforms should be vigorously followed with full spirit. The ‘symbiotic-relationship’ relationship between the police and politicians is also needed to be urgently tackled with. In addition to a consensus to implement reforms, sufficient budget is also required to be reserved for the purpose. Significant work should be done to create a healthy work culture among the policemen.

Also, tremendous work is required to be done in constabulary as it has been found that the constables comprise the majority of police forces and they are often deployed in non-policing areas. Constables should also be given equal opportunities in the matter of promotions and postings. The focus should also be towards the welfare of entire police fraternity. Furthermore, while enacting the new Police Act, police at all levels should be invited to make suggestions about the type of police service and police law they would like to be the part of.

Article contributed by Ratul Dhiman, a student of The Law School, Jammu University. 

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