POLICE REFORMS: NEED OF THE HOUR

Police Reforms - Neelam (1)

INTRODUCTION

Despite the landmark Prakash Singh Judgment, which confronted the problem and was hailed as a seminal moment in police reforms roughly a decade and a half ago, political interference in police postings persists to a great extent. Political leaders and members of all parties and ideologies regard the bureaucracy and police as private fiefdoms that will submit to their demands as and when they want them to. Nothing has changed in the structure, as evidenced by recent reports of lobbying by several police officers in Maharashtra and of “power brokers” making decisions on important subjects such as on postings in conjunction with the government. It shows that the police are still relying on medieval methods in their day-to-day working and that custodial torture continues to be an area of concern.

In India, there has been a nearly 30-year discussion about policing and reform, with many governments appointed committees submitting reports and reform proposals to the government. The National Police Commission (NPC), which published eight reports and drafted a Model Police Bill between 1979 and 1981, made the most detailed recommendations. The police force is a state matter, as mentioned under Article 246 of the Indian Constitution, and hence, it is not addressed at the national level. It is the core responsibility of each state government to develop guidelines, laws, rules, and standards for their respective police departments.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

The Police system has been handed down from colonial times. Soon after the mutiny, famously known as the First War of Independence, the first Police Commission was established in the year 1857, followed by the passage of the First Indian Police Act in 1861. The Indian Police Act (IPA) of 1861, which was implemented by British colonizers as a direct result of the Revolt of 1857, to ensure that the police force remained subservient to the executive and to continue being authoritarian in its dealings with the public, continues to govern us even after seven decades of independence. In 1902-03, Sir Andrew Frazer and Lord Curzon were the pioneers who established a Police Commission to oversee police reforms. The main aim of the commission was to investigate and look into the problems that arose as a result of the Indian Police Act of 1861. It was suggested that local citizens be appointed as officers in the police system. The National Policy Committee, established in 1978, happened to be the first national commission established after India gained independence. It had a wide scope of reference that included the police force, its role, functionality, transparency, and public relations, among other things. Between the period of 1979 and 1981, it published eight studies, including the Model Police Act. However, the bulk of NCP’s guidelines have yet to be adopted.

WHY POLICE REFORM IS NECESSARY?

Former Supreme Court judge Justice Madan B. Lokur spoke at the IPF Foundation Day lecture about the important role that police and criminal justice reforms play in safeguarding citizens’ democratic rights. He claims that unless the police are revamped in compliance with the Supreme Court’s orders, there are going to be umpteen situations where FIRs (First Information Reports) will not be filed, investigations will be sloppy, and citizens’ democratic rights will be violated.

 “On average, each police station is handling 1,500 cases excluding backlog. With this kind of pressure, the police are bound to make mistakes and carry out a shoddy investigation. But something must be done to fix it and the answer is police reforms. Else you will end up with hundreds of cases with the shoddy investigation and hence an unfair trial,” he said.

Prakash Singh, who held positions as the DGP of the Uttar Pradesh Police and the Assam Police, among others, was the one who filed a Public Interest Litigation in the hon’ble Supreme Court in 1996, requesting that the court examine steps to reform police forces throughout India to ensure the proper implementation of rule of law and strengthen stability. Various studies on police reforms were scrutinized by the Supreme Court. Finally, in 2008, a three-judge panel composed of Justice YK Sabharwal, Justice CK Thakker, and Justice PK Balasubramanyan ordered state governments to enact several police reforms. The Supreme Court issued directives for police reforms aimed at primarily tackling the Politicization of policing and bring more accountability in policing activities.

  1. Formulating the State Securities Commission: including the leader of Opposition
  2. Guidelines on the appointment of DGP’s: from the list of top 3 senior-most officers shortlisted by UPSC
  3. Establishing a Police Establishment Board for each police department to oversee the hiring and transition of officers in the ranks of SP and below.
  4. Separation of investigation and law and order wings.
  5. Police Complaints Authority to be established at the state and the district level: to address public complaints concerning policing activities.

The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) in its report dated 22 September 2020, that tracked changes made in the police force following the 2006 judgment found that although eighteen states passed or modified their Police Acts during this period, none completely matched statutory ones, indicating that not even one state was fully compliant with the apex court directives.

CHALLENGES FACED BY THE POLICE FORCE IN THE COUNTRY
  1. Though under the dominance of the political executive, the police have been found lacking in functional responsibility.
  2. The political executive’s power to control the police is not constrained and is not held within its legal limits.
  3. Internal management systems have been found lacking in fairness and transparency.
  4. Policing efficiencies have decreased in terms of their core functions.
  5. Public grievances are not adequately handled, and police transparency and accountability are rapidly eroding.
  6. Arbitrary appointments and postings challenge the ethics of the public services from the political class on one hand and create instability and lack of administration.
  7. Officers in services vulnerable to political interferences, pressures, and favoritism lead to corruption in long run in pursuit of power, praise and money.

THE WAY FORWARD

It is no secret that neither the Centre nor any of the states have followed the directives in letter or spirit, with hardly any checks by the court itself. It is high time for the Prakash Singh judgment to be implemented in all its senses. The judgment limits significantly the discretion enjoyed by the political executive in effecting transfers at whims and fancies of the political executive. The police force should be insulated from any sort of political encroachment into their hierarchy. If India aims to achieve its status as a great power, police force must be restructured and modernized. We have had enough of Ruler’s Police, what we need today is People’s police. The transformation is overdue.

Author(s) Name: Neelam (Army Institute of Law, Mohali)

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References:

  1. Ananya Bhardwaj, (2020, September 23), There can be no modern India without an improved police force – Available at: https://theprint.in/india/there-can-be-no-modern-india-without-an-improved-police-force-think-tank-urges-for-reforms/509124/
  2. Jamal Mecklai, (2020, June 16), India needs to wake up to the dire need for police reforms. Available at: https://www.financialexpress.com/opinion/india-needs-to-wake-up-to-the-dire-need-for-police-reforms/1992676/
  3. Mohamed Thaver, (2021, March 31), Explained: The 2006 Supreme Court ruling on Police Reforms; how states circumvent it to influence postings. Available at: https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-2006-sc-ruling-police-reforms-states-circumvent-influence-postings-7251526/
  4. Prakash Singh, (2019, Sept 08), Police Reforms essential for a progressive India, Available at: https://www.newindianexpress.com/magazine/voices/2019/sep/08/police-reforms-essential-for-a-progressive-india-2029712.html