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Police Reformer Of India

Justice Sabharwal’s landmark judgment is being trifled with. SC must take note.

Written by Prakash Singh |
Updated: July 8, 2015 12:47:34 am
YK Sabharwal, Justice Sabharwal, YK Sabharwal dead, Sabharwal death, Sabharwal police judgments, Police reforms,  Sabharwal police reforms, National Police Commission, India news, latest news, indian express, indian express coloumn, There are few people who really empathise with the police, understand its problems, and appreciate the need to improve its working conditions. Justice Sabharwal was one such person.

Former Chief Justice of India Y.K. Sabharwal’s passing would be mourned, among others, by the country’s police fraternity. There are few people who really empathise with the police, understand its problems, and appreciate the need to improve its working conditions. Justice Sabharwal was one such person. He knew the police had to be insulated from extraneous pressures to be able to enforce the rule of law, and that without a professional police, the country could not have a stable democracy or achieve sustained economic progress.

The petition for police reforms had been filed in 1996. It got an initial push from Justice J.S. Verma, but after that, with the exception of Justice S.P. Bharucha, no other judge took significant interest in the matter. The case meandered for almost 10 years — until it was taken up by Justice Sabharwal. He decided to clinch the issue. In a historic judgment delivered on September 22, 2006, Justice Sabharwal recorded that “having regard to (i) the gravity of the problem; (ii) the urgent need for preservation and strengthening of rule of law; (iii) pendency of even this petition for last over 10 years; (iv) the fact that various commissions and committees have made recommendations on similar lines for introducing reforms in the police set-up in the country; and (v) total uncertainty as to when police reforms would be introduced, we think that there cannot be any further wait, and the stage has come for issue of appropriate directions for immediate compliance so as to be operative till such time a new model police act is prepared by the Central government and/ or the state governments pass the requisite legislation.”

The court’s directions included setting up three institutions: state security commissions to insulate the state police from extraneous pressures; police establishment boards to give autonomy to the department in personnel matters; and police complaints authorities to ensure better accountability of the force. The court also laid down a procedure for appointment of the DGP and gave him a fixed tenure of two years, mandated a two-year tenure for officers performing operational duties in the field, and gave directions for the separation of investigation from law and order in towns with a population of 10 lakh or more. The directions were to be implemented by December 31, 2006.

The judgment caused a huge flutter. The states never expected such far-reaching directions. They mobilised the best lawyers to stall the reforms. Justice Sabharwal, however, held his ground. He chided the state governments/ UTs and even the Centre for not making any submissions during the argument stage that the suggestions of the National Police Commission, NHRC, Julio Ribeiro Committee and Soli Sorabjee Committee not be accepted, and categorically stated that the court shall not permit review of its judgment, for which there was a proper procedure. He divided the directions into two parts: the self-executory directions, which related to the appointment of DGP, the prescribed minimum tenure for field officers and the setting up of police establishment boards, and said these had to be implemented forthwith; and, in view of the submissions made by the states, extended the time limit for the remaining directions till March 31, 2007.

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It is a great pity that his legacy is being frittered away by state governments and the apex court has not been able to ensure its implementation. Some states have cleverly passed laws to circumvent the implementation of the judgment while others have passed executive orders that violate the letter and spirit of the court’s directions. The Centre has been chary of mounting pressure on the states and has not passed a model police act.

Justice Sabharwal had vision. He understood that the architecture of a progressive, modern India could only be built on the foundations of a sound criminal justice system, of which the police is the central pillar. The big question is: Will the SC remain a spectator to its directions on police reforms being trifled with by the state governments?

The writer, a retired DG BSF and DGP of UP and Assam, filed the 1996 PIL on police reforms

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