Political supervision of policing needs to be defined and delineated.
The key issue in Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s “dharna” against the Union home ministry demanding a clean up of Delhi Police is the political control of the police. Though the AAP wants Delhi Police to be brought under the Delhi government, it has failed to explain how the government will oversee the police. Going by the direct orders that AAP ministers gave the police last week, the AAP government has failed to shed the attitude that the police should be subject to the will of the political executive.
Around midnight last Wednesday, Delhi Law Minister Somnath Bharti, accompanied by television crews and AAP volunteers, demanded that the Malviya Nagar police search a house and arrest foreign nationals suspected of prostitution and drug trafficking. Later, while rebuking the police for refusing to search the house, Bharti exclaimed, “If the police do not even listen to the law minister, what will the common man do?”
Then, last Thursday, Delhi Women and Child Development Minister Rakhi Birla demanded that the Sagarpur police break in and search a house at the centre of a dowry harassment case in which a woman had allegedly been set ablaze.
The fact that the ministers demanded that the police immediately act on their orders — bypassing law and procedure — should ring alarm bells. There is nothing wrong with the political executive bringing the police’s attention to crimes, and calling for action. In fact, we need politicians to engage with local communities to find out their concerns and safety needs. But giving direct orders to search and arrest is undue interference in policing. This is precisely what people hoped the AAP would work to change.
The National Police Commission, in its review of policing in India from 1979-81, categorised police tasks into three areas: investigative, preventive and service oriented. It stated that while the executive may provide direction to the police on the latter two tasks, the investigative tasks of the police are beyond any kind of intervention by the executive. In other words, decisions about who to investigate, search, question, detain, arrest and prosecute are decisions for the police alone to make.
The AAP is calling for Delhi Police to be directly under the supervision of the chief minister. This is understandable because policing must be locally supervised. However, policing will continue to fail the common man unless this supervision is defined and delineated. Otherwise, one set of masters will merely be replaced by another.
Although the problem of illegitimate interference in Delhi Police is a complex one, the solutions are clear. It is important to legally define the government’s role in policing. The Delhi Police Act, 1978 (DPA), is manifestly ambiguous when it comes to the police-politician relationship. Section 4 provides that “the superintendence of the Delhi Police throughout Delhi shall vest in, and be exercisable by the administrator.” Under Article 239AA of the Constitution, the lieutenant governor is designated the administrator for Delhi. The DPA leaves the concept of “superintendence” undefined. In doing so, it allows the executive to impose its own version of police superintendence.
The DPA must be overhauled to ensure the police’s operational independence. In particular, it must clearly delineate the chief of police’s responsibilities to the political executive, and the duties and functions which fall exclusively within that remit, namely, the power to act independently with respect to investigating and enforcing the law in individual cases.
The DPA must simultaneously provide a framework for broad control by the executive. Legislation should provide that the minister may give the chief of police direction on matters of government policy that relate to prevention of crime, maintenance of public safety and order, delivery of police services and general areas of law enforcement.
This policy-directing role for government should include the preparation of policing plans and the evaluation of the performance of the police. In 2006, the Supreme Court, in the Prakash Singh case, called for the establishment of a State Security Commission (SSC) to do just this. Crucially, the chief minister of Delhi is a member of the SSC. Therefore, even while Delhi Police remains under the Union government, he has the ability to provide policy inputs for better policing. While a security commission for Delhi was set up in 2012, it has only met five times. It comes as no surprise then that it has failed to fulfil its mandate. Ensuring that the SSC meets regularly will go some way to remedying the present situation.
The second step in preventing illegitimate interference involves ending unbridled political control over transfers, promotions and suspensions. The chief minister’s demand for the suspension of police officials disregards the internal system already in place. The Punjab Police Rules, 1943, applicable in Delhi, place suspension, promotion and transfer in the domain of the supervisory ranks.
Unless these measures are instituted and the executive lets go of its tenacious grip on the investigative and administrative affairs of the police, police performance will continue to fall far short of expectations. Returning to Bharti’s question, it should now be clear that in matters of policing, the priority is not political expediency; it is the common man’s right to a professional police service.
The writer is programme officer, police reforms at the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, Delhi