Few weeks back, following a spate of crimes against women and children in the city, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted: “Modi-ji, please give up your stubborn attitude and let’s work together. Give police and ACB (Anti Corruption Bureau) to the Delhi government. We will show you the results in one year.” However, the Centre has maintained that the home ministry would continue to retain control over Delhi Police as the city is also the national capital. It’s a battle that has raged on for over a year with each side claiming to make Delhi Police more efficient and independent.
Over nine years ago, the Supreme Court (SC) had attempted to do just that, albeit by taking police out of the political control of all governments. On September 22, 2006, the apex court passed an order in the case of Prakash Singh vs Union of India directing all states, Union territories and the Centre to bring in police reforms. In a detailed order, which gave directions on how this was to be done, SC said its order must be followed until all states and the Centre pass new Police Acts incorporating the court’s guidelines.
The new Police Acts were ordered with an aim to bring police forces in tune with the times and make them people-centric rather than ruler-centric. India still follows the Police Act, 1861, framed by the British, largely with an aim to crush dissent. The Act was a reaction to the sepoy uprising of 1857. The SC, through its directions which are to be incorporated in new Police Acts, attempted to change this.
However, nine years later Centre and Delhi government continue to fight for political control over Delhi Police and the 2010 Delhi Police Bill continues to gather dust in the home ministry. Executive orders passed by the Centre to comply with SC guidelines have fallen way short of expectations and hardly loosen the grip of the political class.
Almost no state seems willing to implement police reforms. Since the 2006 SC order, 17 states have passed new Acts while 12 have issued executive orders. Almost none follow the SC order either in letter or in spirit. In fact, concerted efforts have been made by all to somehow circumvent the SC directions and retain political control over the police.
The 2006 SC directions included establishing a State Security Commission (SSC) as a watchdog with members from the government, judiciary and the civil society. The commission was supposed to frame policies which make sure that “state government does not exercise unwarranted influence or pressure on the state police”. The order asked for tenure of DGP and field officers to be fixed at two years. A police establishment board, instead of the government, would deal with transfers of policemen. It also asked for separation of investigation and law and order units for speedy probe.
The directions rattled state governments so much that eight states, including Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab, Jammu & Kashmir, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh filed review petitions. However, all these petitions were dismissed by the Supreme Court on August 23, 2007. The seriousness of the states to bring in police reforms can be well gauged by this example: After SC directions, Bihar was the first state to pass a new Police Act in 2007. But the Act diluted SC directions considerably. The SSC has only government members. DGP’s tenure for two years could be removed on “administrative grounds” or “any other reason”. The PEB will only transfer low-ranking officers and have no powers to dispose of appeals on illegal orders by the government.
“When the order came, the states quickly latched on to that part of it which said the order must be followed until new acts are passed. Thus states quickly passed new acts in order to not follow SC directions on police reforms,” says former Uttar Pradesh DG Prakash Singh who fought for 10 years to get the SC to pass the orders.
On May 17, 2008, the SC constituted a monitoring committee headed by Justice KT Thomas to oversee the implementation of its directions. The Committee, in its report submitted in August 2010, deplored that “practically no state has fully complied with those directives so far, in letter and spirit”. It also expressed its “dismay over the total indifference to the issue of reforms in the functioning of police being exhibited by the States”.
In 2015, a perusal of the acts passed by the 17 states shows that not much has changed. The composition of State Security Commission is not independent of political influence of the ruling government in almost all states.
Most states have avoided having the opposition leader in the commission and independent members have been kept away.
Barring Bihar, Gujarat, Karnataka and Kerala, no state has agreed to give powers of transfer to the Police Establishment Board.
Most states have refused to give more than a one-year fixed tenure to DGP irrespective of superannuation with the exception of Gujarat, Kerala, Karnataka and Rajasthan. Reasons for DGP’s removal tenure have been kept vague with grounds ranging from ‘public interest’, ‘incapacitation’ and ‘administrative exigencies’ to ‘any other reason’.
Usually transfers and postings bring in maximum political influence. Also, only an independent DGP can ensure an independent police force. Police forces of Delhi, UP, Maharashtra and Gujarat have, in the past, faced accusations of being spectators during communal riots. Be it 1984 anti-Sikh riots, the Babri demolition, the 1992 Mumbai riots or the 2002 Gujarat riots.
The analysis also reveals that, except Kerala and Karnataka, no state has provided for complete separation of law and order and investigation duties. The new law, in most other states, says a special crime unit will be set up for serious crimes. Such arrangement already exists in the form of CIDs and crime branches and thus does not serve the objective of the SC directives, sources say.
According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), there were over 12 lakh pending investigation cases with the police across the country. SC’s attempt at separating investigation units from law and order duties was precisely to address this issue.
UNDP’s A2J Project Coordinator Navaz Kotwal, who has worked extensively on police reforms, is more worried about implementation even if right laws are passed. “These laws are basically to escape the SC whip. But even if right laws are passed, will they be implemented? Among the 17 states, only Assam and Tripura have set up police complaints authorities to hold the uniformed men accountable,” she said.
The Centre, too, has been dragging its feet on the issue. It has as not yet set up the National Security Commission. A Model Police Act, drafted by former Attorney General Soli Sorabjee in 2006, is still seeking suggestions from public.
“They keep asking for suggestions from me too. I have stopped sending. If in nine years you haven’t got enough suggestions to put out a Model Police Act, then you are just not interested,” says Singh.
But then the current dispensations at the Centre or various states are only following in the footsteps of their predecessors. The demand for police reforms is over 100 years old with the first such attempt made by Indian Police Commission of 1902-03 under British rule. Since then, it has seen five state commissions and six national-level commissions with all their reports gathering dust.
Despite such slow pace of reforms, Prakash Singh remains optimistic. “Look, a beginning has been made. I may not see police reforms happening in my life. But it will happen one day,” he says.