Dear PM, India needs police reform

The thana, the first line of defence against terror, remains in a dismal state

Written by Prakash Singh | Published:November 26, 2016 12:14 am
26/11, 26/11 attack, india police, police reform, india police reform, india news, india police efficiency, terror combating india, india news It is high time that the government seriously consider bringing police/public order in the Concurrent List of the Constitution. (File/Express Photo)

Are we prepared to face another 26/11-like strike? During the last eight years, since the devastating attack in Mumbai, some measures have no doubt been taken to strengthen the counter-terror architecture of the state, but much remains to be done. At the grassroots level, the inherent weaknesses of the state police remain. The thana police, which is the first responder to a terrorist act, continues to be in a dismal state.

While addressing the directors general of police in Guwahati on November 30, 2014, you enunciated the concept of SMART Police — police which would be strict and sensitive, modern and mobile, alert and accountable, reliable and responsible, tech-savvy and trained. It was a unique definition and we all looked forward to a transformational change. Two years down the line there is a sense of disappointment because the change has not happened. This is, however, not to find fault with the Central government. We all know that police is a state subject and that the decline is essentially because the state political leadership is not prepared to relax its stranglehold over the police.

The Supreme Court’s directions on police reforms have not been complied with in letter and spirit by any state. Seventeen states have enacted laws to legitimise the status quo and circumvent the implementation of the Court’s directions. The remaining states have passed executive orders which dilute or amend the SC’s directions. No wonder the Justice Thomas committee, which was set up to monitor the implementation of the Court’s directions, expressed a sense of “dismay” over the indifference to judicial directions.

The Central government is not entirely above blame. In 2006, when the SC gave its landmark judgment on police reforms, it was expected that the Government of India would enact the Model Police Act which had been drafted by a committee headed by Soli Sorabjee. The states would possibly have followed the Centre’s example. Besides, Article 252 of the Constitution gives Parliament the power to legislate for two or more states by consent. It states that such an Act shall apply to the consenting states and to any other states by which it is adopted through a resolution passed by the legislatures of those states. Nothing of the kind was even attempted by the previous government. As a result, we are confronted with an anomalous situation. The British had one Police Act for the entire country while we have different Acts for different states.

It is high time that the government seriously consider bringing police/public order in the Concurrent List of the Constitution. All state governments depend on the Centre to maintain law and order. An amendment to the Constitution would give de jure status to what is already de facto on the ground. Fali Nariman, a leading constitutional expert, has strongly argued for such an amendment. If the amendment is not found feasible, the least the government should do is declare certain crimes as “federal” and entrust their investigation to a Central agency. This would be in keeping with the recommendations of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission.

There are a range of other measures which could be undertaken without any significant opposition. There are huge manpower deficiencies — we are short of about half a million policemen nationwide. Why can’t these vacancies be filled up and provide employment to many? Police transport needs an upgrade. There are police stations in the country — and this may come as a surprise to you — which have neither a telephone nor wireless. Forensic facilities are hopelessly inadequate in all the states — except Gujarat, which not only has a state forensic laboratory, but also regional, district and mobile laboratories. The Gujarat model in forensics needs to be replicated in other states.

Housing has a direct impact on the welfare and morale of police personnel. There are instances of policemen living in sub-human conditions. The National Police Commission had recommended family accommodation for all the gazetted and non-gazetted personnel. According to the BPR&D, as on January 1, 2015, only 5.80 lakh family quarters were available for over 17.21 lakh police personnel. Working hours of policemen need to be regulated. Empirical studies have shown that subordinate police officers work 10-16 hours a day, round the week. This causes stress and leads to multiple complications including rude behaviour with the public and domestic unhappiness.

Separation of investigation from law and order is the least controversial direction of the SC. This could be implemented right away. Some states have already initiated the process. In fact, it would be ideal to hold a conference of the chief ministers, chief secretaries/home secretaries and DGPs of all the states to discuss the entire gamut of police reforms to enhance the capabilities of the police to meet the challenges of the future.

These challenges are going to be very serious. Terrorist threats to the security of the state will be most formidable. Cyber-crimes will pose a serious threat. Maoist insurgency, militancy in the Northeast and separatist elements in J&K are already there. The overall internal security scenario is going to be grim and is best summed up in the Sanskrit verse Agnina dahyamanastu shatrumadhye gato rane (when there is fire all around and you are surrounded by enemies on the battlefield). The security architecture of the country requires a lot more reinforcement and strengthening.

One last point: Good internal security is essential to sustain the momentum of economic progress and provides the foundation for success and prestige in external relations. US national security doctrine acknowledges this basic principle. We seem to have ignored it so far. It is still not too late to rectify this mistake.

We have, sir, great expectations from you. May God give you the strength to push through reforms in the different spheres.

The writer, who retired as DG BSF, has been campaigning for police reforms for over two decades