Spy’s Eye: Police- Reforming it from inside

Prime minister Narendra Modi while inaugurating the National Police Memorial at Delhi on October 21 expressed the gratitude of the nation to the Police personnel of the Centre and the states who had sacrificed their lives in the cause of duty but he also made a reference to the need for the Police Stations to create an atmosphere of welcome for the people who came there to seek redressal. Prime minister’s presence at the Police memorial is an acknowledgement by the Centre that the Police in India was now playing a role that went beyond the law& order duties to include a key share in the safeguarding of national security. This creates a situation where the Centre has to find a way of exercising an oversight over the state Police- notwithstanding the fact of law & order being a state subject- to ensure that the latter were able to efficiently perform the task of being the first responder to a threat to internal security like terrorism. 

An environ of lawlessness on the streets that does exist today indicates both a sociological decay as well as a pervasive lack of fear of law for which the Police system must take a major share of responsibility. The frequency of planned murders and gang rapes is disturbing -all of which makes it important that the Police Station shows up as a people friendly establishment from the point of view of complainants. In the din for Police Reforms that have now been made a subject matter of judicial intervention at the highest level, the emphasis has been on the factors outside of the force that impeded the structural and functional improvement of the Law & Order machinery. There has been less than adequate attention given, in the discussions, to the internal reasons that kept the Police Station from developing into a people- oriented first point of contact between an aggrieved citizen and the State agency that was there for providing succour. While the senior Police professionals advocating reforms tend to blame it all on the 'politicians in power' and lack of stronger laws, they seem to be reluctant to put focus on the quality of leadership of the Police itself and the unceasing public criticism of Police Station functioning that had been raised over the decades after Independence. Because of the vested interest of politicians in keeping the Police machinery under their control there is lack of bipartisan consensus on Police reforms. 

The Constitution of India placed the accountability for Law & Order and the Police on the shoulders of the state governments as in a vast country like India these functions were to be performed at the grass root levels in the midst of where people lived. Any centralisation of responsibility for them at the national apex clearly would have looked out of place. The states were ruled by elected leaders and the fear of anti- incumbency traceable to mis governance- of which Policing would be a major component- should have kept them on their toes. This did not happen because the politicians in power used the Police to their selfish advantage, held a sway on the Police Stations and usurped the power of transferring or punishing the Station House Officers- with the Police Chiefs of the states gradually accepting this without raising a voice. The advocates of Police reforms have not pitched on the working of the Police Station even when the law mandated that the senior Police officers were de jure Station House Officers for all Police Stations in their jurisdiction. DGP's near total lack of concern with Police Station therefore can easily be described as the principal cause of decline of law& order in Independent India. 

There is no other major country where a top career like the IAS and IPS is made available to meritorious students on the basis of a competitive examination. In about five years an IAS entrant becomes the Collector- a virtual King- of the district and the IPS counterpart the Commander-in-Chief -as the Senior SP -of the large Police force of the territory. A major part of their time was supposed to be meant for ensuring efficient functioning of the Revenue and Police machinery under them. This largely did not happen. Political interference at the local levels would have become minimal if the Police leadership did not succumb to it so easily. The All India Services- created for providing the 'steel frame' for governance are caught in the wide spread phenomenon of a weak spine showing up with the rise of the officer. This is partly because many were becoming a part of the bureaucratic- political nexus to gain personal advancement. 

It is in this context that the judgement of the Supreme Court on the appointment of the Director General of Police of the state has come as a timely directive that would provide statutory strength to the state Police Chief. A bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra passed a slew of directions on July 3 this year asking the state government not to appoint any acting DGP, laying down that states would make a pick from a panel of three senior officers drawn up by the UPSC in consultation with the state government for appointment as DGP of the state and advising the state government to ensure that merit-cum-seniority and a significant tenure became the basis for this appointment.

The prevalent practice of giving this job to a political favourite- sometimes by appointing him or her as the officiating DGP- has been given an effective blow. It is expected that the Police leadership across the country would seek proper implementation of these guidelines as they can hope to get an effective backing of the Centre because of the key role given to UPSC in the selection process.  

The horrendous incident of over 60 onlookers at a 'Ravan dahan' event -held near multiple tracks of fast trains at Amritsar -being mowed down by a speedy train brings out how the basic ground level policing had been given up in this case. It never occurred to the local authorities that the site of the event was putting lives of people in jeopardy - consequently no steps were taken to liaise with the two station masters on either side for temporarily regulating the train movement. Internal reform of the Policing is all about reintroducing the work ethics that did prevail in the early years of Independence. SP and his seniors made unscheduled visits to Police Stations — sometimes at night- and made the

SDPOs or Circle Officers supervise the performance of the SHOs much more closely. Secondly, a good proportion of PS staff worked in plain clothes to collect intelligence from Lanes and Mohallas so that any rumours that presaged violence could be picked up and acted upon. This function has dried up. Thirdly, the SP did not hesitate to order suspension of the officer in charge at the PS in whose shift a death or rape occurred in custody, pending an enquiry about that officer's own involvement in the crime. Fourthly, the leadership of the Police had to ensure that the PS was equipped with the wherewithal to rush to a scene of occurrence and to have a suspect vehicle tracked by getting in the District Police Control Room to initiate the operation. And finally since Policing is now an integral part of maintenance of internal security and the Police is often the first responder to a threat , it will be appropriate for the annual conference of the DGPs chaired by Director Intelligence Bureau to discuss the need for internal improvement in the Police across the country. This will strengthen the hands of the DGPs and restrain the political class from unduly interfering with the Police for personal advantage.

(The writer is a  former Director, Intelligence Bureau)

Columnist: 
DC Pathak