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That pantomime artist known as ‘The Police’

The growing ineffectiveness of state police forces in the face of powerful offenders creates a demand for CBI investigation. This occurs eve...

Written by Manoje Nath |
November 26, 2004

The growing ineffectiveness of state police forces in the face of powerful offenders creates a demand for CBI investigation. This occurs even in cases well within the professional and logistic competence of the police. The CBI itself becomes eminently vulnerable to charges of bias once the affairs of the Central Government become the subject matter of enquiry. One day the CBI too may face an erosion of credibility. It will be good for nothing but ceremonial parades and watch and ward duties. Who shall we turn to then? Interpol, the FBI, or Scotland Yard?

In public perception, the police is regarded as partisan and prone to unlawful behaviour. The Dharamveer Commission (1978) had among many other things recommended the selection of top police leadership by a representative and impartial body to guard against opportunistic or expedient transfer and insulate police officers from undue executive influence. It had also called for a fixed tenure.

The political context within which the police functions has changed dramatically. Criminals with political power and politicians with criminal connections have an increasingly large say in the system. The fate of political leaders holding responsible positions in governments sometimes depends on the outcome of the investigation of a criminal case. Hence for the political elite the control of the police has become more urgent than ever. Theoretically the police are independent in matters of investigation but by using the carrot and stick policy of transfer it can be made the handmaiden of the government.

‘Public interest’, whether an officer will stay for three months or nine years at a particular place, is used to justify arbitrary actions against which there are no forms of redress. Transfer and postings should not matter to an officer, but sadly in prevailing situation, they are all that matter. In situations where even the barest amenities such as electricity, connectivity, medical facility and good schooling are concentrated only in few places, a hasty transfer can be a fate worse than suspension because the fate of an entire family is placed on the line. Benefits and opportunities often accrue to the same individuals. Some remain in perpetual disfavour. Disfavoured officers are sent to redundant posts. Trusted ones are assigned several important assignments. Cadre rules simply become esoteric texts to be interpreted according to convenience. Personnel policy is used merely as a sieve to create a committed following of believers. In these circumstances it is foolish to go on believing in the myth of independence and neutrality of the civil service.

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The options in some states are stark. Co-option or outright rejection. It needs courage and conviction of heroic proportions to resist the rat race. In the context of the police, a group of not more that a few score of ‘committed’ Indian Police Service officers can secure the control of a police force of several thousand officers and men. By selective posting of these pliant police leaders at various strategic levels, rule of law could be converted into rule of men. These puppets, jiggling on the strings of political convenience, command the obedience of their subordinates nevertheless, and are in a position to enforce obedience to improper orders. And if the due process of law is interfered with on a regular basis to suit the requirements of a particular individual, group or clique, the pretence of the rule of law could wear thin. Incidentally or perhaps significantly, the All India Services Act has rules governing every service condition of an Indian Police Service Officer except his transfer!

The counter factual however must also be stated. Immunity from fear of unseasonable transfers will not make saints of police officers but it will certainly make the saintly among them, and there are some, immune from needless interference.

Hence policing is increasingly being depleted of public spiritedness and accountability. The powerful can command the service of police, the rich can purchase it whenever, wherever they can. It is the poor, the weak and the vulnerable that are not welcome to the party. The developing asymmetry—police vis a vis the extremist groups, police vis a vis the crime syndicates—is among many other things, rooted in this lack of credibility and moral authority of the police. Public opinion, an important institution of the open society, ineffectual at best of times, rather than feed the reformist agenda in institutional forums actually colludes in its anticipation of such behavior from police. Thus, there is intolerable strain on other institutions of civil society, especially the judiciary.

Large-scale transfers of police officers and costly deputations of the CPMF are made on election eve for a free and fair poll. But is the citizen useful only for his vote and once his vote has been extracted out of him, can his other rights be left to the tender mercies of this same police for the rest of the five years? Democratic politics perceives it that way, because every shade of political opinion has had the opportunity to initiate reformist measures to insulate the police in the light of many recommendations. So when political parties make ritual pronouncements of misuse of the police by the ruling party, actually it is a coded message from one power group to another seeking an assurance that this highly versatile legal construct called ‘the police’ shall be available for illegal use when it is their turn to wield power. The instrument which was fashioned to uphold the colonial rule suits them fine, thank you very much!

The writer is a senior IPS officer and is currently posted as Civil Defence Commissioner, Bihar. These are his personal views

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