Prime Minister Narendra Modi while inaugurating the Police memorial in the capital rued why it took 70 years to make a memorial for our men in uniform who are striving day and night to secure the country internally. The point made by Hon’ble PM indeed has merit though it serves to tar the political opponents.
The PM’s remarks coming close on the heels of yet another instance of politically connected brash individual brandishing a pistol in the premises of Capital’s five star hotel should raise the all-important question whether memorial that pays respect to the brave individuals engaged in law enforcement serves any purpose if there is scant respect our political establishment demonstrates towards law itself. No Political Party today has its hands clean when it comes to its functionaries showing disdain for law or sometimes for men/women trying to enforce it.
The Supreme Court of India taking cognizance of the overbearing character of Political Classes in affairs of law enforcement gave a 7-point directive to the Central and State Governments in 2006. The directives are:
Constitute a State Security Commission (SSC) to:
1) Ensure that the state government does not exercise unwarranted influence or pressure on the police;
2) Lay down broad policy guidelines; and
3) Evaluate the performance of the State Police.
Ensure that the DGP is appointed through merit based transparent process and secure a minimum tenure of two years.
Ensure that the other police officers on operational duties (including SP, SHO) are also provided a minimum tenure of two years.
Separate the investigation and law and order functioning.
Set up a Police Establishment Board (PEB) to decide transfers, postings, promotions and other service related matters of police officers of and below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police.
Set up Police Complaints Authority (PCA) at State level to inquire into public complaints against police officers of and above the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police in cases of serious misconduct, including custodial death, grievous hurt or rape in police custody and at district level to inquire into public complaints against police personnel below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police in cases of serious misconduct.
Set up a National Security Commission (NSC) at the union level to prepare a panel for selection and placement of Chiefs of the Central Police Organizations (CPO) with a minimum tenure of two years.
The directives put the focus firmly on establishing the credibility of law enforcement agencies by freeing them from stranglehold of political classes. At the same time, the directives recognize the possibility of abuse of autonomy by police officials and seek to put in place robust checks and balances. Despite the well thought out initial measures that the Supreme Court Directive seeks to put in place to lend autonomy to law and order machinery, they in themselves would fall woefully short of achieving the objective. The newspaper reports on how the Chief of a premier investigative agency had to first brief PM and then on his directive, National Security Advisor (NSA) about evidence against the number two officer of the agency tells a clear story of law and order machinery’s obligations to the political masters. As per the newspaper report the NSA asked the Director of the agency to “lie low and ensure that Government’s image is not damaged in the process.” How can a Government’s image not be adversely affected when the Officer in question has been appointed going against many established conventions and recommendations of the Chief of the agency? The case serves to give clear and grim reminder that law and machinery is working mainly to preserve the interests and image of the political masters and this fact is very unlikely to change anytime soon.
Since the shake-up of top echelons of law and order machinery and its liberation from political interference appear to be a distant mirage, the focus of police reforms has to be the average constable who needs to be trained to earn respect of the community he serves. He also needs to be empowered to face up to and overcome any challenge that is likely to be faced by police in times we live in. Some of the reforms that can be initiated without much resistance from any quarter should be:
Working hours – A human body cannot remain alert without proper sleep and rest and long hours at work in varied roles robs our law enforcement personnel of sharpness at the ground level
Roles – Personal Security Officers (PSO) not only denote status but are shamelessly used to break rules and sometimes even law. PSO’s presence serves to intimidate anyone who questions such wanton acts. Some of the PSOs are also called upon to perform functions other than providing protection. The recent tragedy in Gurgaon also brought out the fact that PSO was substituting for the driver. There is an urgent need to have guidelines on who is eligible for security and there should be contribution towards such an arrangement from the individual seeking it. Key Government functionaries in Public life, Bureaucracy, Police and Judicial Services no doubt have requirement for Security but the personnel assigned for such jobs need to have fixed hours of work and defined functional parameters that do not impinge on their dignity.
Mental and Physical Fitness – The law enforcement is a high stress job and the State needs to have a comprehensive strategy to keep the men in uniform in perfect mental and physical condition
Empowerment – There have been many instances of traffic constables mowed down when they have attempted to intercept traffic rule violators. There needs to be a slew of empowerment initiatives covering:
A) Judicial Support – So many traffic constables in their effort to intercept traffic violators have been mowed down. The frequency of such incidents points towards total absence of fear of law which does not carry any stringent punishment for such a heinous crime. Any injury to a policeman in line of duty needs to be dealt with heavy hand and the judicial process should ensure that perpetrators are not considered eligible for any relief like bail.
B) Equipment – The policeman on ground duty should be provided with a body cam and any evidence recorded therein ought to be treated as sufficient. Bad characters and their associates gain impunity owing to absence of witnesses. Body cam can also help to reign in irresponsible and sometimes downright criminal acts on part of policemen as seen in Lucknow shootout. According to an ex-police officer who does not wish to be named, it is not uncommon to pick up weapon and discover that it is non-functional. In such situations, even the Senior Officers advise that weapon be carried in its non-functional state just for the sake of psychological edge.
C) Resources - Police personnel responding to emergency call from a police station have to reach the site spending own money on fuel etc. post mortem of unclaimed bodies, last rights etc. have to be done by the officer dealing with the case. By withholding resources for genuine reasons the state is indirectly encouraging the police officers to pass on the burden of such expenses to anyone who can be coerced. At a higher level even the top anti-terror outfit, the NSG, is without a dedicated aircraft of its own. This had earlier resulted in disastrous response to 9/11 attacks in Mumbai but it seems to have receded from the memory of powers that be.
D) Training – If functioning weapons are in short supply even for deployment, their availability for training has to be a far cry. That is what exactly it is. Policemen are woefully short of target practice and other tactical training that will give them an edge over criminals. Constant training also needs to be imparted on effective interaction with community. The Delhi Police initiative of Beat Constable keeping an eye on the well-being of Senior citizens is one such example.
E) Technology/Tech surveillance – Evidence gathered by using tech tools needs to be admissible in the court. Crucial evidence such as fingerprints, blood samples can be stored in tablet PCs. Data fed to be location linked and admissible in Court of Law
There is a need to also use the Central Police Organization personnel judiciously. Their repeated deployment which only sees them wandering aimlessly in public spaces robs them of sheen their training lends them.
Recognition and Reward – In areas like J&K, the J&K Police routinely undertakes operations against heavily armed and trained adversaries alongside army. As per existing norm act of gallantry from the two establishments for the same operation would carry different benefits and medals. Since the nature of operation is same this disparity needs to be looked into.
Focussed Investigation – The overload of diverse responsibilities that often result in tardy investigations have been duly addressed in point four of the seven point directive of the apex court. The directive which calls for separating investigations from law and order duties can be implemented straightaway and the Hon’ble SC would be justified in insisting on its implementation to set the ball rolling on long overdue Police reforms.
The Supreme Court has done well to initiate preliminary work on much needed Police reforms in the country, one hopes that the Political Class which has so far showed no keenness to implement reforms will see the futility of using Police as a tool because a mere tool can also change hands and be used by the next person controlling it. Till then, Indian Police will continue to be at opposite poles with the purpose it seeks to serve.(Published on 29th October 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 44)