The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has arrested four people accused in the ongoing investigation of cases related to violence in Manipur, an official statement said on Sunday.
Recently I had the opportunity of participating in a discussion on the subject of police encounters. To my dismay, some very senior police leaders expressed the view that in the present scenario, police encounters to eliminate dreaded criminals and terrorists are an unavoidable cruel necessity.
No doubt, there is tremendous pressure on the police from the political bosses and members of the public to adopt extra-legal methods to eliminate criminals, who defy the criminal justice system and go unpunished.
For them, the gains of committing crime outweigh the risks. Due to the staggering pendency of cases in the courts, the criminal cases also drag on interminably resulting in crucial witnesses being swayed either by lure of money or fear of muscle power.
A study by the Bureau of Police Research and Development had unveiled that the notorious coal mafia lords of Dhanbad, who struck terror in the region were seldom convicted or given their desserts.
The notorious don Atiq Ahmed had more than 100 cases pending against him in different law courts yet he carried on with his depredations unfazed and unrestrained.
At present more than four crore cases are pending in different courts of the country and arrears of cases in High Courts is more than 34 lakhs. According to the Supreme Court the right to speedy justice is a fundamental fight under Article 21 of the Constitution. Despite the directives of the Apex court, the situation has not improved.
Without access to speedy, inexpensive and unpolluted justice, people are tempted to take the law in their own hands. The situation is further compounded by the bleak law enforcement situation. Conviction rates in respect of heinous offences has plummeted to 40 per cent in murder cases and 28 per cent in rape cases.
There are huge vacancies in police forces in most of the states. The police to population ratio in India is 112 per 1000000 of population which is far below the advanced and peaceful countries of the West. In the police forces of the country there are no dedicated and earmarked staff for investigation of cases.
There is no separation between law and order and investigation staff which was directed by the apex court; as a result, investigation work receives step motherly treatment. An officer in a police station on an average gives less than twenty per cent of his time in investigation of cases.
Plagued by paucity of manpower and constantly badgered by public and political masters to weed out the dreaded criminals, the police readily opt for illegal and short-cut methods, and feel justified and vindicated. There emerge within the force some encounter specialists who are lionised and become darlings of the political masters and the police bosses. The heady wine of power and success turn their heads and many of them turn into corrupt extortionists. and enrich themselves by dubious means.
But the blue-eyed boys are cast away when things go awry after any serious act of aberration. Sometime back, the encounter specialist of Gujarat police DG Vanzara found to his utter dismay that the Chief Minister and the political leaders who were appreciating his work dumped him because they wanted to present an untarnished image before the Supreme Court.
Like Cardinal Wolsey, Vanzara had to rue his unthinking loyalty to the King. The assumption that in the present situation fake police encounters are unavoidable is fallacious as well as defeatist. With determined endeavours, the criminal justice system in the country can be rejigged and delivery of justice can become expeditious.
The infrastructural inadequacies of the police and the courts have to be addressed, with utmost priority. The answer is, as the National Police Commission puts it “to strengthen law and the legal processes” Violating the rule of law in the name of law enforcement is not desirable even from the limited police point of view.
There are instances where the criminals used the police to bump off their rivals in intragang warfare. Research has shown that notorious ganglord Dawood Ibrahim used to eliminate his rivals by tipping off the police.
The police would arrive on the scene not for arresting but for eliminating the criminals. Further, illegality in the name of law enforcement debases police functioning and generates within the force contempt for law. The Police have to maintain order through law.
Otherwise, dacoits at any time can maintain better order than the police. Police also must turn the spotlight on the difficulties and hurdles it encounters because of the skewed criminal justice system which makes its work difficult. There are legal provisions that seriously handcuff the police.
By short-circuiting legal processes the police are scapegoating themselves and deflecting attention from other agencies of the criminal justice system. Deviant methods make policing a furtive and not transparent activity and undermine pride which is the foundation of job satisfaction. It is the moral responsibility of the police leaders to resist illegal pressure from above and convince the subordinate staff that extra-legal methods are counterproductive. Sustained good work of the police is forgotten and washed away by a brazen act of abuse of force and the police remain alienated from the public.
I have seen promising careers of bright young officers ruined after being held accountable by enquiry commissions, Constant endeavour by police leaders to build up a human rights culture in the force is imperatively necessary. The essence of human rights is respect for human dignity.
Indian police have yet to imbibe concern and respect for human rights, particularly of the marginalised and vulnerable groups. Organisational cultures can influence the work and conduct of its members profoundly. In the United
Kingdom the first two commissioners of London Metropolitan Police by their unremitting exertions and emphasis on human rights were able to build up a police loved and respected by their public. Such a goal should inspire our police leaders too.
The writer is Senior Fellow Institute of Social Sciences, a former Director General of the National Human Rights Commission and former Director, National Police Academy