Prime Minister Narendra Modi has, in the four years of his rule, established a new benchmark for the nation in three distinct spheres – the regime can for the first time claim to be headed by a political executive comprising Prime Minister and the cabinet that is free of corruption, the agenda of governance is focused on ‘development for all’ that essentially guarantees a secular spirit and defines economic growth as its prime mission – a contrast from the earlier times of non-governance, and finally the remarkable manner in which the country’s foreign policy is resting on the clear principle of bilateralism, serving the cause of security and development.
Crimes like frequent rapes of minors, public assaults – often provoked by fake news on social media – and even adulteration on a high scale which can not all be blamed on ‘interference of politicians’, have raised que-stions about inefficacy of police and lack of fear of law in various parts of the country.
It is in this context that the judgement of the Supreme Court on certain crucial aspects of police reforms comes as a timely wake up call for the Centre and the states. A bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra passed a slew of directions on July 3 telling the states not to appoint any officer as acting Director General of Police, laying down that states would make a pick from a panel of three senior officers drawn up by the UPSC for appointment as the DGP of the state and further advising the state government to ensure that the person selected had ‘reasonable period of service left’.
The court order essentially rules that merit-cum-seniority and a significant tenure should be the basis for appointing an officer as the Chief of the state police and not the prevalent practice of giving that job to a political favourite.
The intervention of the apex court has not come a day too soon considering the near breakdown of the police administration that has come about in many states primarily because the head of the state police had totally given up on his responsibility of keeping up the efficiency of the force under him. The unbridled freedom exercised by the political leaders to order appointments of the police from top down to the level of station house officer is responsible for this. The decline of the All India Services behind the ‘steel frame’ of India has mainly been due to the strange phenomenon of an officer becoming progressively weak in decision-making with his rise in the hierarchy. One reason for this was the irony of the Centre recruiting, training and loaning to the states the officers of IAS and IPS but subsequently abandoning all its stakes and power in monitoring the performance of these officers as they moved up the ladder. And the second cause for deterioration was the political-bureaucratic-criminal nexus that developed for a variety of reasons as brought out by the irrefutable Vohra Committee report of 1993. The Centre through the Department of Personnel & Training should have years ago acquired a say in the appointment of chief secretary and DGP of the state but the use of bureaucracy and police as an instrument of political power by the chief minister in the name of Centre-State divisions, put a lid on any such practice. The Supreme Court order hopefully restores the Centre’s role and at least in the case of police administration gives back the required autonomy to the police chief to take charge of his men. It has to be seen how this works out.
Interestingly the Supreme Court in another matter heard the same day made a pronouncement about the accountability of the state governments for preventing mob violence and organised public assaults. The court expressed distress that people were taking ‘law into their hands’. The Chief Justice observed that ‘each state shall be held responsible as law & order is the state’s responsibility’ and went on to suggest that the Centre could have a framework under Article 256 of the Constitution to give ‘directions’ – not mere advisories- to the states to prevent such incidents. It is necessary for the Centre to demonstrate to the Indian voters that it was not willing to put up with serious failures of law & order anywhere and make Delhi a testing ground for this. Impressions about unsatisfactory situations of crime control can keep foreign investors away since – as is well known study of ‘external environ’ is a basic plank of enterprise risk assessment for any global corporate. India has rightly debunked the report of UNHRC on human rights violation in India, because of the highly biased profile of its author but the alarming declaration about India being perceived to be the world's most unsafe country for women – as recorded by the Thomson Reuters Foundation's annual survey – should hasten a closer examination of the state of policing in the country even when the methodology of that survey banking on the opinion of 550 ‘experts’ looked somewhat biased and dubious. In the Indian context the annual conference of DGPs chaired by Director Intelligence Bureau must discuss the matter of national image pertaining to law & order, not the statistics of crime, and help evolve the strategic framework of dealing with it at the thana, district and state levels. Perhaps it is necessary to deploy a substantial proportion of thana police for Intelligence gathering at the level of mohallas and lanes so that crime prone elements and social deviants could be tracked unobtrusively and any rumours picked up in time. If the Thana is manned by responsible policemen, use of Sections 108-110 of Cr PC could be made wherever it is called for. Police presence should be closer to where the law abiding citizens live.
Depoliticisation, effective judicial control and efficient supervision by the top leadership on the police machinery are the obvious requirements for law enforcement in a democratic dispensation but ironically these seem to be the weak points in our system. Installing the right kind of professional at the top of the state police is the most important first step and the Supreme Court stepping in to make that happen is for the national good. It may be mentioned that in the Penal Code of India there are two remarkable concepts of police working that have unfortunately gone unnoticed and unimplemented. One is the stipulation that the senior officer in the hierarchy is deemed to be the station house officer for all the police stations in his jurisdiction which makes him accountable for all that happened at the thana level. The other is the fact that the Code does not use the world constable and describes him as a police officer in the matter of defining his power. The constables and head constables of the civil police are supposed to act as officers of law and they must in terms of qualification, training and uniform look like them. In all these decades this up gradation of policemen at the police station has not happened for reasons of reluctance of the government to spend on the police. This should be another major step of police reform.
(The writer is a former director of Intelligence Bureau)