Insights into Editorial: Ten Years And Waiting
September 22, 2016 marks the tenth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s judgement in the Prakash Singh case. The verdict was aimed at propelling police reform. The judgement was intended — but perhaps not expected — to kick-start police reform.
Significance of this judgment:
The 22 September, 2006 verdict of the Supreme Court in the Prakash Singh vs Union of India case was the landmark in the fight for police reforms in India. In its directions, the court had pulled together recommendations generated since 1979. They make up a scheme, which, if implemented holistically, will cure common problems that perpetuate poor police performance and unaccountable law enforcement.
The design requires states and the Centre to put in place mechanisms to ensure that:
- The police have functional responsibility while remaining under the supervision of the executive.
- Political control over the police is kept within legitimate bounds.
- Internal management systems are fair and transparent.
- Policing is increased in terms of its core functions.
- Public complaints are addressed through an independent mechanism.
The 2006 SC directions included establishing a State Security Commission (SSC) as a watchdog with members from the government, judiciary and the civil society. The commission was supposed to frame policies which make sure that “state government does not exercise unwarranted influence or pressure on the state police”. The order asked for tenure of DGP and field officers to be fixed at two years. A police establishment board, instead of the government, would deal with transfers of policemen. It also asked for separation of investigation and law and order units for speedy probe.
What’s the problem now?
Unfortunately, the directions of SC have not been implemented by the states. None of the states have taken it seriously. While few states actively resisted the court’s order, few states did nothing. While few did something but did it wrong and finally, got out from under the Supreme Court’s orders by passing laws which not only do not conform to the court’s orders but actually give statutory sanction to bad practices.
Since the 2006 SC order, 17 states have passed new Acts while 12 have issued executive orders. Almost none follow the SC order either in letter or in spirit. In fact, concerted efforts have been made by all to somehow circumvent the SC directions and retain political control over the police.
For instance, in the majority of the 17 Police Acts passed since 2006, state governments have given themselves the sole discretion to appoint police chiefs instead of choosing from a panel recommended by the UPSC.
In many of the nine operational Police Complaints Authorities currently in place, their design has been subverted by appointing serving police officers as judges in their own cause. Elsewhere, their functioning has been hobbled by the lack of independent investigators.
Why police reform is necessary?
Police is an exclusive subject under the State List of the Indian Constitution. States can enact any law on the subject of police. But most of the states are following the archaic Indian Police Act 1861 with a few modifications. Also, police have become the ‘subjects’ of Parliamentarians and legislators – with a high degree of politicization and allegiance towards ruling party.
India still follows the Police Act, 1861, framed by the British, largely with an aim to crush dissent. The Act was a reaction to the sepoy uprising of 1857.
Challenges faced by police force in the country:
Collection and analysis of preventive intelligence: The most important and challenging task faced by the police today is the collection and analysis of preventive intelligence and follow-up action, especially pertaining to terrorists and insurgents who pose a constant challenge to internal security.
Criminal Investigation: The other important, but badly neglected, aspect of policing is criminal investigation. Standards have declined sharply in the last few years. Unfortunately, the so-called premier investigation agencies like state CIDs and the CBI are no exception.
Vacancies: Many states continue to have huge vacancies. Even the apex court’s direction to fill these posts has not yielded the desired results.
Outdated arms and equipments: Most state police forces continue to use obsolete equipment and arms, and lack the latest technology that would help in investigation and intelligence-gathering.
Lack of Organisation: There are no organisations to provide the police forces with tested and dependable specifications on equipment and technology. They are generally dependent on vendors, who often sell outdated or not-so-suitable technology.
Lack of proper training: Well-trained and motivated human resources are key to any police force’s success. But, most training academies are poorly staffed and often don’t have the necessary facilities. Institutions need to be upgraded in terms of facilities, equipment and technology.
What has the centre done in this regard?
The Central government had formed committees to create a Model Police law in line with the Court’s directions. It also came up with the Model Bill in 2006. However, the Model Bill of 2006 drafted under Soli Sorabjee’s chairpersonship has been adopted in breach by 17 states and entirely ignored by the Centre.
Another Police Act drafting committee was also formed in 2013 to make revisions to the 2006 model. Dutifully, it has given its recommendations, which now lie mouldering in bureaucratic caverns measureless to man.
The demand for police reforms is over 100 years old with the first such attempt made by Indian Police Commission of 1902-03 under British rule. Since then, it has seen five state commissions and six national-level commissions with all their reports gathering dust. But, it is imperative that more needs to be done than mere structural changes within the system. It is essential to now look at the police as a service organization meeting those needs of the society that are essential for safety, security, quality of life and peace. Community involvement, problem oriented policing and proactive policing strategies need to be adopted in the changing scenario of society.