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Why Maharashtra doesn't give a damn for police reforms

It seems common citizens stand no chance when they come in contact with the police in Maharashtra. This could be a chance meeting with the law enforcers, or it could be despite having a legitimate grievance.

Take for instance three recent cases reported in the media.

In Thane, two public-spirited individuals went to a police station soon after Janmashtami and asked why police did not act against on noise pollution offenders despite the high decibel levels during the dahi handi festivities. They did nothing wrong.

Instead of responding, and helping uphold the law, the duo was thrashed. One policeman  held them down on a chair while the other allegedly assaulted him.

In Kalyan, two constables picked up two men from their homes, detained them for 36 hours, beat them with belts and demanded a ransom of Rs 60,000 for their release. When they realised that a complaint to the Anti-Corruption Bureau was in the offing, they withdrew.

In Mumbai, the police raided a bar, ostensibly to check whether the management possessed an appropriate licence. The raid was a needless exercise and  in the process, a woman employee of the bar died. Police say they were only talking to the manager, not raiding the bar. The staff says they were assaulted.

Mumbai-police-PTIThese are just three instances of misconduct within a week and god knows how many more have gone unreported, as the media is generally focused only on metro cities whose readers and viewers they cater to. Curiously, in all these three cases, the police will probe the police.

‘Misconduct’, however, would be too mild a word to describe the police behaviour. More appropriate would be to call it brazen lawlessness of the law enforcers, a sense of impunity because the police generally tend to give some latitude to their own when caught in such situations.

The Maharashtra State Human Rights Commission would be a proper forum for redress in these cases but it is without its two members since 2011 and a chairperson, with the rank of a high court judge, since 2012. Its website even tells you that 10,627 cases are pending at the end of March 2013.

Naturally, in the previous year, no case could be taken up or cleared. Reports abound about how the aggrieved in human rights violation cases – not necessarily by the police but others too – are turned away. Their helplessness is compounded, once vis-a-vis the police, and then again vis-a-vis the state's inability to give them a hearing.

There could have been another platform for redress. The Supreme Court had ordered a State Security Commission in all states of which, a police complaint authority to adjudicate people's complaints against the police would have been set up. This was in 2006, and the apex court had sought compliance by 2007.

It is now amply clear that Maharashtra is not inclined to comply for it sees such an arrangement as "unconstitutional", because it was “an encroachment on the executive's function, which could be exercised only by the governor on the aid and advice of the council of ministers headed by the chief minister”.

Interestingly enough, Maharashtra has been the first among the states to raise this issue and in its averments before the supreme court has termed the ‘directions’ ‘recommendations’, thus making light of the weight the court threw behind reforms in the police.

That the police, working under draconian pre-Independence rules and mindset, has not been people-friendly, is a reality. Not a single reforms commission’s suggestions have been taken seriously at any level except for some lip service and the force is also only pro-establishment, read political authority.

The Security Commission for each state was to draft broad policies for police set-up and evaluating the force's performance and report periodically to the respective state legislatures, decide on who should be the DGP and the tenure of officers. It also was to have a board to hear grievances of policemen themselves.

From the point of view of a common citizen who fears the police and that an occasion never arises for him to visit a police station, the state’s stand amounts to quibbling.

Because if it were not, the State would have ensured the appointments to the key posts in the Human Rights Commission, and at least selectively taken up elements from the Supreme Court directives to show its sincerity and taken up the others with the apex court in appeal. It is as if it just does not give a damn.