The Directors General of Police from all over the country have gathered for an annual conference at Tekanpur (Gwalior) from January 6 to 8, 2018. The conference is attended, among others, by the prime minister and home minister. No other PM has given so much time to police matters or interacted with the police leaders of the country in the manner the present prime minister has done. He attended the conclaves in Guwahati, Rann of Kutch and will now be participating in the deliberations in Gwalior. Ironically, however, the government is yet to take any bold initiatives to transform the colonial police structure of the country into a progressive, modern force sensitive to the democratic aspirations of the people. The PM’s concept of having a SMART police remains a pipe dream.
The failure to reinvent the police is to be attributed largely to the constitutional arrangement which places the police and law and order in the “state list”. The founding fathers of the Constitution could not visualise the tremendous changes that would take place in the coming decades, particularly in the domain of internal security, necessitating a concurrent role for the Centre in police and matters of law and order. It is high time that the constitutional arrangement is revisited.
This is, however, not to absolve the Union government of its responsibility in the matter. The Police Act Drafting Committee, headed by Soli J. Sorabjee, had prepared a Model Police Act as far back as 2006. It was expected that the UPA government would legislate on the subject and that its initiative would be followed up by state governments, at least in those states where the same party was in power. However, nothing of the kind happened and the Ministry of Home Affairs is still fiddling with the Delhi Police Bill.
With the Centre not showing the expected interest and not giving any directions to the state governments, the provincial satraps went berserk, passing laws legitimising the status quo or issuing executive directions violating the letter and spirit of the Supreme Court’s directions of September 22, 2006. More than a decade has passed but the states continue to drag their feet in implementing the judicial directions. Monitoring by the SC has also cooled off and the case was not even listed during the tenure of the two previous chief justices.
The result is utter confusion at the ground level. Earlier, we had one police act for the entire country. Now we have a plethora of laws enacted by 17 state governments and different sets of executive orders issued by the remaining state governments. The Centre continues to procrastinate and has yet to approve a model police act. No wonder the internal security situation continues to be grim and the police performance leaves much to be desired. The National Security Strategy document of the US clearly states that “our strategy starts by recognising that our strength and influence abroad begins with the steps we take at home” and that “what takes place within our borders will determine our strength and influence beyond them”. Our policymakers have yet to appreciate this simple truth. The steps which are absolutely essential to strengthen the internal security apparatus of the country are not being taken and only cosmetic improvements are made. The police, if it is to meet the expectations of the people, must be insulated from external pressures. Only then will it be able to uphold the rule of law.
It is remarkable that the Indian Police Service (IPS), despite the constraints under which it functions, has played a stellar role in the past. Andhra Pradesh was able to clear the Naxals in the state thanks to its Greyhounds. The terrorist movement in Punjab was comprehensively defeated in spite of the support it was getting all along from across the borders. The Tripura insurgency was squashed. Terrorism in the Terai area of Uttar Pradesh (geographically larger than Punjab) was stamped out in just about one year. And yet, the IPS was never given its due place of honour in the government hierarchy. This has severely constrained the initiative of its officers and affected their performance.
There are about 24,000 police stations and outposts across the country. The total strength of the state police is nearly 2.26 million. It is a formidable strength which covers the entire geographical stretch of India. This force is today performing at hardly 45 per cent of its potential, mainly because it is short of manpower, has poor infrastructure, and has no functional autonomy. Imagine this force performing at 80 to 90 per cent of its capacity, which is not difficult to achieve. It would make such a difference. People would feel safer and happier. The internal security problems — the Maoist insurgency, Kashmir imbroglio, Northeast separatist movements, terrorist threats, etc — would be contained and lose their sting.
Police duties are arduous in any country. However, they are perhaps the toughest in India. More policemen die in the performance of their duties every year in the country than in all of Europe. It is high time that policepersons are recognised for the enormously difficult and hazardous duties they have to perform.
All services perform important functions. However, it must be recognised that without the police ensuring good law and order in the country, the other services would find it difficult to operate. We are proud of the fact that India is among the fastest growing economies in the world, but the economic superstructure could collapse if the law enforcement apparatus does not rise to the occasion in the face of a challenge, as happened in Haryana where the reservationists inflicted more damage than what the combined forces of Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad could have done. The democratic structure may also crumble one day if the policeman has to salute the criminal politician instead of putting him behind the bars. The stakes are too high. The police must get its due and must be enabled to perform its mandated functions.