By K. Subramanyam
Police accountability is perhaps the focal point of discussion in every human rights forum. The recurring theme of this narrative is how brutalised and even criminalised the police force in India is and how the Indian police, wallowing in the British legacy and armed with the “power to take away life and liberty”, continues to be a threat to human rights and civil liberties by its “use of coercive force”. The setting up of the police complaints authority (PCA) in this context and the reported “unhappiness” expressed by the director general of police in Maharashtra over this move, as detailed by Maja Daruwala in her article ‘Perpetuating impunity’ (IE, February 24), has prompted me to put across my views on the subject.
Complaints against police could be for any of the following reasons: police misconduct arising out of procedural violations; criminal misconduct in making false arrests; extortion, intimidation, etc; or violation of human rights by selective enforcement of the law. Thus, occupational deviance in the police could take the form of simple misconduct to outright corruption and criminality. Police misconduct and corruption are universal. The degree of misconduct varies according to the gravity of the situation faced by the complainant and the scope for manoeuvring by the official.
True, there are instances of abominably brutal behaviour by the police, like assaulting handicapped persons or even women at police stations, as seen in some parts of the country. In such instances, besides severely dealing with those directly concerned with these criminal acts, the role of supervisory officers must be subject to scrutiny to bridge any trust deficit. One has to bear in mind that just as every action of a policeman while enforcing rule of law gives him scope for corruption, a strict non-partisan approach in such enforcement could also invite allegations from the person who violated the law. This is the reality that both citizens and the police are confronted with daily.
Daruwala has painted a picture of total lawlessness and anarchy in Maharashtra, all because of the abuse of power by the police, and she believes that a PCA , composed only of people from outside the government, can improve police accountability.
When we advocate the introduction of yet another watchdog in the form of the PCA, are we admitting that the existing grievance redress systems, including the courts, have failed? The question that begs an answer is: How many oversight bodies should be calling the police to account to ensure a squeaky clean and public-friendly police force? On one hand, we make a strong case for respecting police hierarchy and chain of command as an integral part of police reform and on the other, condemn the entire hierarchy as incompetent and complicit continued…