All is not well with India's police forces – in fact, there has been professional incompetence and callous insensitiveness in handling critical situations. The police leadership did not rise to the occasion, writes Prakash Singh for South Asia Monitor
The Revolt of 1857 shook the foundations of the British Empire in India. The British felt the need of a police force which would be “politically useful”, quell any rebellions and uphold the authority of the Empire. This was the background to the enactment of Police Act of 1861 which made the police subservient to the executive – an arrangement which continues to this day.
The Frazer Commission (1902-03), which was appointed to inquire into the administration of police in British India, found that “the police force is far from efficient; it is defective in training and organization; it is inadequately supervised; it is generally regarded as corrupt and oppressive; and it has apparently failed to secure the confidence and cordial cooperation of the people”. It is distressing that these comments are valid even today.
Time appears to have stood still for the Indian Police. Significantly, the Commission also stated that “radical reforms are urgently necessary”. More than one hundred years later, we are still struggling for systemic changes in the police.
Commissions galore, but no action
Post-independence, the Government of India appointed a National Police Commission in 1977 because it felt that “there has been no comprehensive review at the national level of the police system after Independence despite radical changes in the political, social and economic situation in the country”. The Commission produced a comprehensive report in eight volumes covering the entire gamut of police working. Unfortunately, the report got only cosmetic treatment at the hands of the central and state governments.
In 1996 a PIL was filed in the Supreme Court for police reforms. The Supreme Court gave a historic judgment in 2006, giving six directions to the state governments and one to the central government. These directions sought to insulate police from external pressures, give it autonomy in personnel matters, make it more accountable, prescribe a transparent procedure for the appointment of Director General of Police, giving him a minimum tenure of two years irrespective of superannuation, giving two-year tenure to all officers on operational assignments also, and directing that crime work be separated from law and order in the bigger cities.
The judicial directions had the potential to bring about revolutionary changes in the functioning of the police. However, the central and state governments were not willing to loosen their stranglehold over the police. Having developed a vested interest in the status quo, they made every effort to amend, modify and dilute the directions of the Supreme Court.
Justice Thomas Committee (2008-10), which was appointed by the Supreme Court to monitor the implementation of its directions, was dismayed by the “total indifference” of the states to the implementation of judicial directions. Justice J.S. Verma Committee (2012-13), which was constituted in the wake of Nirbhaya gang-rape case in Delhi to suggest amendments in criminal law, was of the view that “if the Supreme Court’s directions in Prakash Singh are implemented, there will be a crucial modernisation of the police to be service-oriented for the citizenry in a manner which is efficient, scientific, and consistent with human dignity.”
The observations of the aforesaid committees had no impact on the state governments. What has compounded the problem is that the police are deficient in manpower, has very poor infrastructure, and does not have adequate forensic support while its training facilities are pathetic. These deficiencies and the absence of political commitment to reforms have created a situation where the police are just not able to meet the expectations of the people. Their performance leaves much to be desired.
All is not well
A number of recent incidents have highlighted these fault-lines. In December 2019, Hyderabad Police liquidated four alleged rapists in an encounter that looked like extra-judicial killings. In February 2020, Delhi was convulsed with communal riots, leaving behind 53 dead. A total of 750 FIRs were filed and these are being investigated. Even if it is conceded that these reports were correctly registered against those who incited or participated in violence, there is no satisfactory explanation for Delhi Police not taking any action against members of the ruling party who gave hate speeches. In June, Tamil Nadu Police killed a father and son under circumstances which could not be justified by any stretch of reasoning. In the Hathras incident of Uttar Pradesh in September, there was inordinate delay in registering the FIR of gang rape followed by unseemly haste in cremating the body of the victim.
All is not well with India's police forces – in fact, there has been professional incompetence and callous insensitiveness in handling critical situations. The police leadership did not rise to the occasion. There has been hesitation in taking firm decisions, punishing the delinquent officers and taking a principled stand against politicians giving unlawful orders.
India cannot allow this state of affairs to continue. Police must be reorganized, restructured and reformed so that it upholds the rule of law and meets the democratic aspirations of the people.
(The writer was formerly Director General of Police, Uttar Pradesh, DGP Assam and Director General Border Security Force. The views expressed are personal)