Unreformed Police

Unreformed Police

Solutions are not obliged to dance to the abracadabra of police reforms. Any change packaged as reforms need not necessarily give the desired payoffs or fix the problem. Often they surprisingly reappear as deformities. The first cry is for police independence from politics, when the cases of police impunity such as the encounter killings in Uttar Pradesh take place.

Politicians who are beneficiaries of the system are unlikely to concede to it. Judiciary in the past thought that they would be able to bring the system under control. In India, judiciary lacks the bandwidth, training and aptitude to call police to account as police lacks acculturation to act humanely and to do community policing. Taking advantage, the political class introduced their carrot and stick policy, that is more budget and more unaudited special funds which are an invitation to malfeasance.

The tag line, dil ki police, just shows the availability of immense amounts of money for branding even though no branding is possible when the product is nowhere near its claim. Police may carry cutting edge ammunition, mimic armed forces in weaponry, vehicle fleet, accoutrement and mess culture duly encouraged by the political class, but what is the use if rubber does not meet the road. If electoral politics is about entrustment of monopoly of state coercion to a party, there is incentive for converting police into warriors.


Meanwhile, the eco-system remains unchanged and with every act of impunity, there would be more undeserving awards, enhancements of budgets and improvements in perks, privileges, pelf and power. Huge tolerance for sleaze, corruption, complicity in crime and extrajuridical excesses develops.

Justice Madan Lokur in an article correctly pointed out that if the guards are not guarded, we invite destruction of the rule of law. What police gives us is the rule of force and the money that is paid to police as the heavily armed agent of the state is to do things which it is not trained to do. Judiciary cannot and the politician will not abdicate. Another suggestion is to put the right officer, right judge and right politician together. This matchmaking is a logical impossibility. The most cynical view is that nothing will happen as no one is beyond reproach. With unfettered powers, and if there is no control, how can impunity decrease, when it is incentivized to increase? When that is not a solution, the only answer is institutional ring fencing. The British had introduced the system of magistracy to have checks and balances. Incidentally, the brutality under them looks anodyne compared to what happens today.

Following the American system, where the gun was a problem, the police has grown into a militia and has ensured that it remains a problem because of the police-criminal-politician unholy trinity.

My suggestion here is that before we launch a seemingly impressive set of reforms with convoluted results in the end, we should just follow what the existing law contemplates and says. Maybe strengthen it too. These suggestions emanate from experience of working as a judicial magistrate in tribal areas as was the practice in my cadre as well as working as the District Magistrate. After all, a diamond is nothing but a coal which stuck to its job. Apex judiciary can play a positive role here. The suggestions are:

* The Indian Police Act 1861, police manuals and several executive instructions make the police function under the general supervision and control of the district magistrate. Over the last thirty years, this system has declined to become anaemic or even non-existent in most states. The apex judiciary needs to order resuscitation of this arrangement as it has served the country well for 150 years. Comparable responsibility and primacy should be given to every level of the executive magistracy. In police commissioner systems where this arrangement does not exist, it should be brought in with associated manpower and support system. Even summons cases can be transferred to executive magistrates to decongest the court system. This arrangement will complement the judicial system in protection of the fundamental rights which the Constitution enshrines.

* Police transfers, postings and promotions should come within the remit of an independent Civil Service Board and loose funds should be restricted.

* As per the police commission report, every community should have a warden to register First Information Report, in addition to the extant arrangement, and report to the district magistrate.

* At the station house level, there should be separation of investigation and law and order duty. Most criminal cases fail because of shoddy investigation and politician-criminal complicity. With professional investigators in place, the strike rate of conviction should improve.

* Not allowing police to do what they should not be doing is more important than enabling them to do what they are doing. Foisting cases, filing improper charge sheets, denying FIR filings and forgetting about the accused clogs up the criminal justice system and crowds jails. The prosecution wing should sit at the Collectorate with a deputy collector and a DSP assisting the DM to sieve out unnecessary cases, deleting false cases and ensuring that the investigation is adequate before filing the charge-sheet.

These may not be tectonic reforms. They are just attempts to stick to what the law says but the politician has upturned. Whatever works in advanced countries may not work in India. Everyone forgets that the world over policing is a county function and when centralized it becomes more rapacious and politically driven. Even when led by very bright officers, institutions show this trend. The only way out is not to allow the criminal justice system to become deeply flawed. Otherwise, it would be a cruel joke not only on citizens but on a large body of bright and conscientious men and officers who are forced to metamorphose beyond their own cognition.

The writer is a former Secretary to the Government of India