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Will the Supreme Court Prioritise Police Reforms For Speedy, Efficient Justice?

Much as the reforms are to be externally directed, there's a dire need for top leadership to pilot them internally.

Updated
Opinion
6 min read
Will the Supreme Court Prioritise Police Reforms For Speedy, Efficient Justice?
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Segments of the police community and leadership in India want to observe 22 September as the 'Police Reforms Day' to mark the event in which the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India passed a slew of directives aimed at ‘reforming the police’ in exercise of its extraordinary powers under Article 142 of the Constitution of India.

The struggle for police reforms has been an ongoing one with various Police Commissions being set up but the non-binding nature of the reports and recommendations of the Commissions meant tardy progress. The three-judge bench directives by Hon’ble Justices PK Balasubramanyan, CK Thakker and CJI YK Sabharwal apparently were to have more teeth and muscles when it came in 2006 after a 10-year effort ably shepherded by former Director General of Police (DGP) Prakash Singh.

Initially, The Supreme Court set a deadline of 3 January 2007 for compliance in which the States/UTs were directed to file affidavits, subsequently even setting up a committee under Justice Thomas to monitor the implementation. A lot of water has flown down the river since then.

Snapshot
  • Segments of the police community and leadership in India want to observe 22 September as 'Police Reforms Day

  • The Supreme Court set a deadline of 3 January 2007 for compliance in which the States/UTs were directed to file affidavits.

  • SC directs the constitution of the State Security Commissions at the State level and the National Security Commission at the Centre as ‘watch-dogs’ to ensure that the Government(s) do not exercise ‘unwarranted influence' or 'pressure on the police’. 

  • BCCI is rich and autonomous. Police are not. Reform of police and policing issues are left to the understanding and designs of the civilian bureaucracy and political intervention.

A Decades-Long Work Still In Progress 

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If one were to broadly summarise the directives of the Supreme Court, five points stand out --firstly, necessitating the constitution of the State Security Commissions at the State level and National Security Commission at the Centre as ‘watch-dogs’ to ensure that the Government(s) do not exercise ‘unwarranted influence' or 'pressure on the police’. Secondly, it postulated a specific selection procedure of the Director General of Police(DGP) and stability of tenures of senior officers, the rank from Station House Officers (SHOs) Superintendents of Police (SPs) and upto Inspectors General of Police (IGsP).

Thirdly, the separation of investigation procedure from the law and order wing so that criminal cases can be resolved faster. Fourthly, Police Establishment Boards for service and personnel matters of officers below the rank of Deputy SPs need to be in place in the States to ensure neutrality and professionalism and lastly, Police Complaints Authorities at the State and District levels for looking into complaints against police officials need to be established.

It would be inappropriate to assume that no progress has been made in the implementation of the directives so far. However, it may be safe to assume that countrywide, on all parameters listed above, the implementation would fall short of even by 50%.

It is also easy to always keep passing the buck onto the shoulders of the political bosses and the non-police bureaucracy too. Much as this reform has to be forced upon the police from outside, there is a dire need for the top police leadership to pilot the reforms from inside.
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Realistic, Prompt Planning Can Drive the Police Force

'We' the Police can understand the administration, its functioning and the environment best or recognise our strengths and limitations too, for that matter. However, we have not been able to lead or push the reform from within collectively. An honest introspection and appreciation of the urgent need for reforms is where it needs to commence. Sadly, the panoramic, long-term vision and the future roadmap remain uncharted for most police bosses – both the previous and the current ones.

Thinking in an abstract manner of ‘what can happen’, ‘where we need to be’ and ‘how we can reach there’ are important aspects of leadership. Most police leaders spend a disproportionately long time in micro-managing things which are the preserve of their subordinates – for that is where the power lies and not in abstract planning.

Some State police forces have posts variously christened for ‘Police Rules and Manuals’ and the like, and most often, it is the most inconvenient person who is shunted out to such posts rather than the best.
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Ironing the Creases in Prakash Singh Case

Talking about the need for reform from within, without doubt, the buck ought to start and stop at the doors of the topmost echelons. The directives of the apex court regarding the appointments of the Head of Police Forces (HoPF) were meant to bring about stability of tenures, professionalism and ensure continuity besides fencing policing from external influences.

To that end, the directives were well-intentioned. However, these seem to have achieved much the opposite. The merit-cum-seniority principle has given way to panels and the minimum residual duration of service has meant that the officers with otherwise excellent track records may fall by the wayside. In some cases, the panels may also mean inclusion of officers with much less seniority getting the look-in.

Obviously, no system can be perfect. However, the one followed in the apex court can be a decent one to emulate in police too. The senior-most IPS officer of a cadre gets the job of the DGP-HoPF even if it is for a shorter duration, similar to the practice of the senior-most judge being elevated as the CJI.

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This latter system would have a lot of advantages. An IPS officer, virtually at the time of joining service would know his career trajectory and there would not be back-biting and professional rivalry among the brother officers; the ones near the top and likely to reach the top could actually put their heads together and try to plan out a common, collective ‘improvement agenda’ which they could collectively implement over a period of time, ad seriatum – something which is lacking.

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Alternately, if we think that political or extraneous influences are inevitable at the local level and cannot be cut off, it may just be worth trying out a system of ‘municipal police’ which is controlled, funded and, monitored by the local authorities who are elected. This system is alien to India.

Is the Police Really Free From Political Influences?

However, with political and extraneous interferences being stark realities, it may just be worth it to try this model out. Propelled by the benefit of experience that the elections to the basic-level local bodies are the most fiercely-contested ones and the stakes being highest, it may be better to push the ball back in the courts of the politicians – entrusting them with greater responsibilities to be the ‘panch parameshwars’ than being extraneous influencers.

However, despite this, the police professionalism would have to remain at the core of police reforms, only that the accountability would be more decentralized.

Coming to the police reforms mandated in re Prakash Singh, these prima facie, within the ambit of Articles 141, 142 and Article 32 are “the law”. In a nutshell, the directives are ‘the law’ and ‘the precedent’ and therefore all arms of administration – the executive, legislature and the judiciary are duty bound to assist and aid the Supreme Court in their implementation. Moreover, armed with the power to punish for its own contempt, these directives perhaps should have greater enforceability. However, the Supreme Court, on its own, neither has the wherewithal nor the time to oversee the implementation.

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SC Batting for Police Reforms Maybe a Win-Win

During a short interaction with Padma Shri Prakash Singh at the National Police Academy during a training course, my simple pointed query to him was “If police reforms are important, is there not a strong case for the Hon’ble Supreme Court devoting as much time and seriousness to it as it has devoted to sorting out the issues at The Board of Control for Cricket in India?"

His short reply was evasive but there is no denying the fact that the Apex court has probably addressed the issue of cricket with greater alacrity than that of ‘police reforms’.

BCCI is rich and autonomous. Police are not. The direction and pace of reform of police and policing issues are left to the understanding of the civilian bureaucracy and political intervention.
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Can the Police Reforms Come Out of Catch-22?

Mismanagement, favouritism, nepotism and corruption in the BCCI merely mean loss of revenue and possible creation of vested interests, probably not having any major deleterious effect on the masses or the social fabric. Mismanagement or ‘lack or reform’ or ‘transformation’ of police effects the basic foundations of the society and the democratic ideals we proudly cherish or wish to espouse. Lack of institutional, legal, training reforms, professionalism and a crying need for transformation from a police with colonial mindset to a democratic, professional police are the need of the hour.

Without the transformation, the ‘have nots’ continue to suffer whereas the ‘haves’ have it either way. The landmark Prakash Singh judgment ought to have been a starting line. Sadly the slow progress has meant that it has been relegated to being the ‘end result’ achieved.

At least policing deserves as much space in public discourse as cricket and BCCI do – among all organs of governance, the fourth pillar included.

(The author is an IPS Officer currently posted as DG Prisons, Homeguards and Civil Defence in Nagaland. He tweets @rupin1992. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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