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Reforms for Indian Police

Reforms for Indian Police

Reforms for Indian Police The Indian Police: A Critical Evaluation by Arvind Verma; Regency Publications, New Delhi, K S SUBRAMANIAN The misdeeds and oppression, characteristic of the inherited police structure in rural and urban India, came out sharply during the Emergency of 1975-77 and were duly documented in the Shah Commission report. A reform process was initiated in 1977 outlined in detail in the eight reports of the National Police Commission (197981) and in the report of the L P Singh Committee on the role of the Intelligence Bureau (IB), the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). However, the Congress, which returned to power in 1980, rejected all these reports. In 1984, the anti-Sikh riots witnessed the participation of the police in the violence against the Sikhs. This was followed by its massive communalisation, leading up to the demolition of the Babri masjid in 1992, the Bombay violence in 1992-93 and the Gujarat carnage in 2002, which witnessed the active participation and facilitation by the police in the mass violence against the minority community. The criminal justice system had collapsed almost completely in large parts of the country, but for some positive actions taken by the National Human Rights Commission and the Supreme Court of India, especially with regard to the horrendous Best Bakery case in Gujarat. Governments led by both the major political formations in India have notably neglected action on the needed police reforms. The present government in New Delhi has, however, made a symbolic gesture recently by setting up a narrowly conceived committee to redraft the Police Act of 1861, still in force. This is a positive step but is well short of the comprehensive reforms that are called for.

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The broad conclusion is that working with grassroot NGOs, deployment of

Reforms for Indian Police

The Indian Police: A Critical Evaluation

by Arvind Verma; Regency Publications, New Delhi, 2005; pp 287, Rs 750.

K S SUBRAMANIAN

T
he misdeeds and oppression, characteristic of the inherited police structure in rural and urban India, came out sharply during the Emergency of 1975-77 and were duly documented in the Shah Commission report. A reform process was initiated in 1977 outlined in detail in the eight reports of the National Police Commission (197981) and in the report of the L P Singh Committee on the role of the Intelligence Bureau (IB), the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). However, the Congress, which returned to power in 1980, rejected all these reports. In 1984, the anti-Sikh riots witnessed the participation of the police in the violence against the Sikhs. This was followed by its massive communalisation, leading up to the demolition of the Babri masjid in 1992, the Bombay violence in 1992-93 and the Gujarat carnage in 2002, which witnessed the active participation and facilitation by the police in the mass violence against the minority community. The criminal justice system had collapsed almost completely in large parts of the country, but for some positive actions taken by the National Human Rights Commission and the Supreme Court of India, especially with regard to the horrendous Best Bakery case in Gujarat. Governments led by both the major political formations in India have notably neglected action on the needed police reforms. The present government in New Delhi has, however, made a symbolic gesture recently by setting up a narrowly conceived committee to redraft the Police Act of 1861, still in force. This is a positive step but is well short of the comprehensive reforms that are called for.

This study is well timed to coincide with the above move of the government of India and brings a breath of fresh air to discussions on police reforms in the country. The author served as a member of the Indian police service (IPS) for a period of about 12 years in Bihar from the late 1970s. Unable to accept the “abominable” conditions of work, the politicisation of the service and averse to the “form of policing” in India, he left for academic pursuits abroad, while still a superintendent of police in his state. He is currently associate professor of criminal justice at the Indiana University in the US. The underlying thrust of the study is in favour of far-reaching reforms to address the persistent crisis of the Indian police system.

The book falls into three large parts. The first covers well trodden ground on the organisational history and model of colonial policing in India and argues that this “police system is the frame that has to be broken to make the police organisation relevant to Indian society today”. The second examines the managerial challenges of public order maintenance and the issues of crime, corruption, politicisation and training. The need to control “situational discretion” by the construction of “relevant data sets” and to eliminate the “cultural indoctrination” that creates a gulf between the leadership and the subordinates in the police are underscored. The cultural roots of corruption and politicisation together with the problem of police accountability are addressed. The third and final part evaluates the work of the National Police Commission (NPC) in an innovative and interesting manner. It attributes the “failure” of the commission to accomplish its tasks to a variety of factors including its composition, methodology, neglect of research, neglect of cross-country experiences together with a flawed perception of the policy culture and politico-administrative environment in the country. Verma makes a positive contribution to police scholarship in this chapter in a way that has not been attempted in this country before.

modern technology, replication of successful experiments abroad, and above all, recognition of the importance of “research as a vehicle of change” are needed to modernise the Indian police. The emphasis on research as the core of policing needs to be especially noted as relevant research of the kind advocated in the book is conspicuous by its absence in India.

Stagnant System

The author is critical of the three “design features” of the police system laid down by the British: the authoritarian and ceremonial character of the administration; the priority accorded to the role of the armed police; and the “dual control” of the police by the district superintendent of police and the district magistrate. The police station was the pivot of the police administration and the station house officer (SHO) the key functionary. Supervision of the work of the SHO was the main task of the superior officers. This system has continued unchanged in independent India. Corruption, inefficiency, brutality and blatant exercise of authority by the SHO over citizens are dominant features. Thus, time has stood still in the practices of the police in India. The dominant role of the armed police as a legacy of the Raj continues, leading to the devaluation of crime control and civilian police patrolling. The “dual control” vitiates police management and professionalism.

Democracy in India has reduced the oppressive character of the police and made it more responsive to the people. It has enabled the people to go to the politician or the judiciary for redress against police inaction and abuse of power. The media has played a role in exposing police excesses. In “group-based politics”. However, democracy has placed greater discretion in the hands of the police, which they use to gain room for manoeuvre in the management of law and order situations, communal tensions and other “group clashes”. The author examines the issue at some length.

By the way, the NPC, which had also gone into the issue of police discretion in

Economic and Political Weekly March 25, 2006 public order situations, had called for detailed guidelines to be issued, which has not been done. Looking at the challenges of public order scene in India, the author underlines the need for professionalism, technology and training but sees no evidence of the police forces trying to address the issue.

That training in the police was neglected even 20 years after the report of the Committee on Police Training (1972) became clear to this writer while attending a training programme on social tensions at the National Institute of Rural Development, Hyderabad, in the mid-1990s. During one of the sessions, a few “surrendered Naxalites” who had been invited, were requested to share their experiences. They began with a description of torture in police custody. As the description became more and more graphic, the atmosphere in the training hall slowly became more tense. The silence of the audience was suddenly broken when a senior woman IPS officer from the nearby National Police Academy, also a participant, burst out loudly and uncontrollably at the participating Naxalites: “When I hear you people talk, I wish I had brought my revolver”! That session of the training programme came to an abrupt end!

The author’s analysis of crime, its measurement and the use and misuse of criminal statistics plus his call for better research and learning of lessons from abroad is well taken. The brief evaluation of the work of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) could have been supplemented with a much-needed assessment of the work of the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D), the parent body of the NCRB.

The author makes a fascinating analysis of the organisational features and the cultural and managerial practices, which promote corruption, brutality and politicisation in the police. He focuses on the elitist nature of the police leadership, the politicisation of the department, its unaccountability to the people and its outdated managerial practices, which have made corruption endemic. Politicisation of the police, according to him, is the result of lack of professionalism and accountability within the police organisation. Political misuse of the police is the direct result of internal organisational problems and poor performance. When police indifference to citizen problems and personal misbehaviour of officers become matters of public concern, it becomes necessary for the politician in our democracy to intervene. Independence brought no fundamental changes for the police but it has dramatically transformed the ruling elite. Empowered by democracy, people demand that politicians address their grievances. His analysis of the conflict between democratic politics and the authoritarian practices of the police leads the author to boldly state: “politicisation of the police is the price (paid) for the democratic functioning of the country” (p 171). The author’s analysis here is in sharp contrast to the prevalent wisdom, which tends to put all the blame on the political class, ignoring the negative role of the police leadership, which, the author says, is the key to the situation.

Political Interference

The author makes an interesting typology of the forms of “political interference” distinguishing between its public, general and special forms. The public form is seen when the citizens seek political help to get some police action taken, which is neglected due to organisational mismanagement and police indifference to the legitimate concerns of the citizens. The special form is seen when the politician, with a vested interest or while seeking to make money, intervenes with the police for some favour or the other on behalf of his client. The general form is seen when the politician seeks to elicit the public support essential to win the next election or protect criminals and power brokers from police action or seeks to influence the internal management policies of the police organisation. These interventions occur because of weaknesses and shortcomings of the police leadership.

In this analysis, the author neglects the detailed examination of the issue of political intervention in the NPC reports. Further, political intervention in police work in the recent period has been much more blatant and direct than the author might imagine. When the Babri masjid was about to be demolished, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh is reliably reported to have issued instructions to the state DG of police that no police firing should take place without his orders. The DG reportedly complied by issuing written instructions in this regard. Again, late on February 27, 2002, the day before the anti-Muslim carnage in Gujarat was to commence, the chief minister of Gujarat is reported to have told a meeting of top

Economic and Political Weekly March 25, 2006

police and civilian officials that a major ‘bandh’ (agitation) was to take place in the state on February 28 to protest the killing of Hindus at Godhra earlier on February 27 and that the administration should respect “Hindu sentiments”. The officials would seem to have complied as revealed by subsequent developments.

While the author’s study is largely based on his experience in Bihar including his evaluation of certain central establishments such as the NCRB, a critical study of the role of the police in India today would need to include a review of the role of central police agencies such as the IB, CBI and the central paramilitary forces, which are playing an increasingly important role in law and order management in the states. The role of the IB has come in for sharp evaluation in recent studies. The insights from these studies would need to be incorporated in critical evaluations of the Indian police.

Finally, it is clear from the record and from the observations of the British themselves that the Indian police was created as an instrument of political control and surveillance rather than as a mechanism for crime control and service provision. The British often repeated what they had stated in 1859: that the police in India is “all but useless for the prevention and sadly inefficient for the detection of crime” and that with rare exceptions it was unscrupulous in the exercise of its authority with a “very general reputation for corruption and oppression”. With some effort, the British could have changed this situation but did not. The Indian rulers who followed had, in turn, been “no more than faithful” to their British predecessors in retaining intact and expanding further, the political-repressive aspects of the legal and the police system in India.

EPW

Email: kssubramanian_1999@yahoo.com

Economic and Political Weekly March 25, 2006

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