The observation of the Delhi High Court that “unhappy policemen are not good for the city” was city-specific, yet has nationwide relevance. More so since it was made in the context of poor conditions in which cops and their families live. And remember that the creature comforts enjoyed by the Delhi Police – primitive though they are in absolute terms – are envied by their counterparts across the country.

The core of the comment of Justice Rajiv Shakdher that “they are also under great stress” would be one of the very few instances when the policeman&’s plight has been judicially recognised. For the better part, credence is given to Justice Mulla&’s condemnation of policemen as “criminals in uniform”. A vicious circle obtains: the police are written off as corrupt, extortionist, inefficient etc hence hardly worthy of humane consideration – and that actually fosters cementing the processes underlying the very same shortcomings.

A study by the Bureau of Police Research and Development – few beyond the khaki community would have cared to read it – has raised some disturbing issues: against the UN-recommended norm of 222 cops per 100,000 citizens India has just 145, and the “spread” is anything but uniform. Overwork is the obvious outcome, it takes its toll on the health and productivity of the personnel, renders them frustrated and insensitive, wreaks havoc with their family life.

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What is even worse is that in India the public perception of the police – courtesy politicians to a large extent – is that of an oppressive instrument of the government. Another colonial hangover, to be sure. And that has come in the way of appreciating and implementing the recommendations of several expert reports on police reform and welfare upgrades. When last was a revamp of the police system included in an election manifesto or raised as a campaign issue?

The ministers in North Block attend parades, make goody-goody speeches, but do nothing more. And ministers in the states do even less. Did a minister, bureaucrat or even a judge ever care to calculate the number of laws the police are required to enforce – and assess how well-equipped they are for the task? Reality points to the Delhi High Court taking note of living conditions being a case of the “rarest of the rare…”