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An Open Letter to the Prime Minister

Dear Prime Minister,I am writing this open letter to you on a subject that is very close to my heart i.e. police reforms. I am writing to yo...

Written by G. P. Joshi | August 31, 2005

Dear Prime Minister,

I am writing this open letter to you on a subject that is very close to my heart i.e. police reforms. I am writing to you as a former police officer and as a citizen who wants the best for his country just as you do.

Two factors prompt me to write to you. One, you have shown an interest in reforming the civil administration and I believe that the police is a very important part of that administration. Two, I am fully convinced that police reforms are too important to neglect and too urgent to delay. A developing economy requires a climate of peace and stability. If development has to take place at a rapid pace, crime must be controlled and peace must prevail. If the secular fabric of our polity has to be preserved, citizens, particularly the poor, downtrodden and marginalized groups, must have access to justice. Controlling crime, maintaining law and order and providing access to justice is dependent upon the establishment of a police force, which is efficient, honest and professional to the core.

Do we have such a police force? Not if we go by the findings of various commissions, complaints received by the human rights commissions, the stories reported by the press and the experiences of common people. 58 years after Independence, our police are still governed by the Police Act of 1861. The police system established by this Act was governed by the sole consideration of defending the establishment rather than providing sensitive and friendly policing to the people.

Under this Act, the police forces have been structured, groomed and controlled to be loyal and subservient to the rulers and not to the people. The police are thus seen by citizens not as servants of law but of the regime in power. The advent of Independence changed the political system, but the police system remained unaltered. The Police Act of 1861 continues to govern it. Its managerial philosophy, value system and ethos remain unchanged.

Politicians and bureaucrats continue to exercise control over the police unchecked and not always for legitimate ends. The police were supportive to the rulers and establishment, considerably distant from the community. And they continue …In fact, the police are now too often, as in Gujarat and Gurgaon, the architects of my shame as a citizen.

If we missed the opportunity to change the system in 1947, let’s at least change it now — 58 years after Independence. The state police forces in this country are about 1.4 million strong. If the central police organizations are also included, the strength exceeds two million. This huge reservoir of trained manpower can do enormous good to society, provided they are developed to change from a feudal force to a democratic service. A professionally efficient, honest and democratic police service can give far better returns in terms of winning public support than a force which is misused for selfish purposes.

A misused police force gets corrupt and brutalised and in turn abuses its powers and this is what has been happening in different parts of the country for so long. Inevitably, the victims of police abuses are common poor persons, whose anger is spilling into contempt for law, violence, vigilantism and even armed resistance. Policing is, of course, not the direct responsibility of the central government as the Police & Public Order are placed by Article 246 of the Constitution in the State List.

The central government, however, has the option of implementing police reforms in the union territories. This will enable them to acquire the moral authority to ask the state governments to follow suit. The central government has the leverage to encourage state governments to reform their police forces by setting norms and standards and implementing them in the union territories, issuing policy directions, releasing of central grants for modernization and housing dependent on police performance and behaviour etc.

The idea of police reforms needs to be pursued simultaneously in two directions. One is to establish statutory institutional and other arrangements that insulate the police from undesirable and illegitimate political control and help in ensuring that police perform in strict accordance with law. I would also urge the establishment of an independent police performance board that enables the government to monitor and assess police performance against objective criteria and take corrective steps to improve performance. Ensuring police accountability for wrongdoing can best be done by setting up an independent civic oversight mechanism that can handle public complaints against police misconduct fairly and efficiently.

The other direction is to think in terms of all that can be done to strengthen and improve policing within the existing set up. Besides improvement in recruitment, training and leadership at all levels, the status of constabulary, which constitutes 87 per cent of the police force, needs immediate improvement. In short, the need for police reforms is evident and urgent and the country can neglect it only at its peril. I am confident that a man of your vision and experience would not allow any further delay in reforming this sick but a vitally important institution.

Yours sincerely,

G.P. Joshi

Email the writer at: gpjoshi@humanrightsinitiative.org

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