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Energising the beat

Police incentives aren’t right. Fixing them helps fix policing

Written by Joginder Sodhi |
April 20, 2009 12:52:34 am

In Amartya Sen’s Development as Freedom the Nobel laureate listed “protective security” as one of his five fundamental freedoms. Enhancing that freedom through police reform has been asked for over decades from all quarters,including from the National Human Rights Commission,the judiciary and the legislature. Numerous committees,including the National Police Commission (1979-81) have been set up; reports have been drafted.

The UPA government set up one such,a Police Act drafting committee. On the basis of its recommendations,the government formulated a new law to contain communal violence. Except for the north eastern states,many large states have not implemented this. Apparently they do not want to fix ‘command responsibility’; they don’t want the commissioner of police,the DGP,the chief secretary,the home secretary,the home minister and the chief minister to be accountable in any manner. This illustrates the resistance to reforms of the police and political leadership. With this attitude at the top,it is no wonder,as former IPS officer K. S. Subramanian observed,“The basic philosophy of Indian police is still based on the Police Act of 1861,which emphasises management of trouble after it occurs.” The law enforcer’s consequent apathy towards the aam aadmi’s protective security reached its crescendo recently in Mangalore,when a high-ranking police official had the audacity to seek refuge behind a feared “communal backlash” if a criminal was booked under the normal law of the land.

Transparency International’s survey of several thousand Indian households showed the respondents experienced the police as India’s most corrupt institution. The largest number of complaints the NHRC receives are against the police. The Constitutional Review Commission found that “public confidence is at its lowest ebb”. Eighty per cent of the arrests made in districts were for bailable offences; but recently,the retired DSP K.K. Gautam admitted that “these (FIR) figures are manipulated. FIRs are not registered and even when they are,10 or 20 cases are clubbed in one. Moreover,a robbery case is registered as theft and theft as missing”.

Admittedly the task is gigantic; there are only 1.3 million police personnel to serve a population of 1.2 billion. The policemen perform their duties against all odds,working for 14-15 hours a day in terrible conditions. The nature of their duty keeps them invariably on the road; they are denied leave,hardly get adequate rest and are always under pressure from the politicians and the propertied — leading to high levels of stress,which has at times manifested in extreme behaviour. These are corroborated by a recent study,conducted by the Shri Ram Centre,on police stations in Delhi.

Obviously the agenda of police reform is wide. There are larger issues: increasing the police force; rooting out politicisation and the incentives to corruption (that frequently begins from the recruitment stage); reducing the huge chasm between the higher echelons and their subordinates; increasing accountability and “soft skills training”. But the Shri Ram Centre study highlighted another facet of reform,one which appears immediately doable: revising performance indicators. The appraisal of police stations is based on indicators which are primarily quantitative in nature,and centre on the maintenance of a large number of registers — on the number of FIRs,crimes,assets,missing persons etc. These are quite inadequate,given the work’s actual demand. While police personnel spend,on average,6-8 hours a day on duties related to VIPs,religious gatherings and non-cognisable complaints/offences (neighborhood quarrels,family disputes etc),these don’t show up in performance indicators. Existing parameters like parade turnout and drill,according to a large number of policemen,serve very little purpose. (This partly explains the small number of policemen on the road in the early hours,when young children are on their way to school.)

The implications of the vast variation between what the personnel do and what is expected of them are serious. First,the emphasis on quantitative parameters encourages shirking work that’s qualitative in nature: the indifference to protective security woes and the reluctance to register FIRs or missing person reports are direct reflections of this. Second,the involvement in too many activities far beyond written ones leaves the police too little time to attend to more important duties relating to citizen services.

In order to make police personnel properly accountable to stakeholders,a new set of qualitative performance parameters need to be developed. I suggest four categories: first,citizen services and community policing,covering missing persons,functions like marriages,cricket matches,unnatural deaths,FIR complaints,job verification complaints,complaints and petitions,RWAs; second,preventive and responsive action (for IPC and non-IPC crimes); third,special assistance,for senior citizens,women and children,and the physically handicapped); and finally,stakeholders’ satisfaction — judged on the attitude,behaviour and commitment of the local personnel. To push this through,the new government may need to form a broad-based group involving all stakeholders — with the rider that their recommendations should,this time,be accepted and implemented.

The writer is director,Shri Ram Centre for Industrial Research and Human Resources,Delhi

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