It has been 13 years since the Supreme Court issued a string of directions to reorganise, restructure and reform the police.
The states, however, have been dragging their feet on implementing the instructions. The political class may swear by the rule of law but, in reality, they want the law of rulers to prevail. There has been farcical compliance and whatever action has been taken at the state level goes against the letter and spirit of the apex court’s directions.
The Congress, in its manifesto for the Lok Sabha election, promised to “consult state governments and reach a consensus on the police reforms directed by the Supreme Court” and that, based on that consensus, “will pass a Model Police Act that the states will be advised to adopt and enact in the state legislatures”.
The manifesto also said that “the objectives of the Model Police Act will be to make the police forces modern, technology-enabled, people-friendly, and upholders of human rights and legal rights”.
Reassuring words, indeed! The fact, however, is that when the Supreme Court gave the directions in 2006, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government was in power and, for the next eight years, it fiddled with police reforms. The least that the UPA government could have done was to pass the Model Police Act, drafted by Soli Sorabjee and prevailed upon the states, where it was in power to pass Police Acts on those lines. Nothing of the kind was done or even attempted. Under the circumstances, the promise in the manifesto has to be taken with a pinch of salt.
The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government also disappointed in the matter. At one stage, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi talked of having a SMART police—a force which would be sensitive, mobile, accountable, responsive and tech-savvy— in the country, there was hope that things would change. Unfortunately, there was no follow-up action by the home ministry or the states where the NDA was in power.
The BJP, in its manifesto, has made no mention of police reforms. The document, under the heading Secure India, talks only of zero tolerance against terrorism and extremism, and certain others measures such as abrogating Article 370 and implementing the National Register of Citizens across the country.
The Centre recently released Rs 7.69 crore each as an incentive to 10 states that successfully implemented “police reforms” but the parameters made no mention of the Supreme Court’s directions. The states were actually rewarded for filling up vacancies, using technology in the detection of crime and promoting welfare of police personnel, which are important issues no doubt but they skirted the systemic changes the Supreme Court asked for.
Why is the political class not bothered about police reforms? The unfortunate fact is that those in power have a feudal attitude towards the police. They look upon the force as an instrument to further their agenda and fix the opposition. The bureaucracy has, of course, mastered the art of circumventing and even subverting directions that are inconvenient to the establishment.
Sadly, law and order is not a major issue during parliamentary elections and, in the current politically charged atmosphere, rhetoric trumps over logic and reason. National security has come to be identified with a muscular response to Pakistan’s non-state actors’ depredations in India. People have yet to understand that internal security, of which police is an essential component, is an integral part of national security. Strengthening national security without police reforms would be like raising a super structure on foundations of sand.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, speaking at a recent national conference on public security, asked the police to “closely follow the CPC (Communist Party of China) Central Committee in terms of thinking, political orientation, and action at all times…to ensure that the party’s lines, principles, policies, and major decisions and plans are implemented to the letter”.
One can only hope and pray that our ruling class, consciously or unintentionally, is not pushing the Indian Police in that direction.
Prakash Singh is former director general of the Border Security Force and it was on his PIL that the Supreme Court ordered police reforms
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