‘For revamp & upgrade: Rs 25,000-crore package for police reforms‘ and ‘Government clears Rs 25,000-crore scheme to modernise police force in 3 years’ are just two of the many such headlines that blazed across the entire print media on September 28, 2017. Several reports said that the government has finally, after three and a half years, fulfilled one of its poll promises.
It has been reported that “The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, gave its approval for the implementation of the umbrella scheme – Modernisation of Police Forces (MPF) – for 2017-18 to 2019-20.”
Special provisions are reported to have been made under the scheme for internal security, law and order, women’s security, availability of modern weapons, mobility of police forces, logistical support, hiring of helicopters and e-prison, among others. Some of the other details of the scheme have been reported as under:
“The new initiatives were being introduced to provide assistance to states for upgradation of police infrastructure, forensic science laboratories, institutions and the equipment available with them to plug critical gaps in the criminal justice system.”
“Police stations would be integrated to set up a national database of crime and criminal records. It would be linked with other criminal justice systems such as prisons, forensic laboratories and prosecution offices. It also provides for setting up a state-of-the-art forensic laboratory in Amravati and upgradation of the Sardar Patel Global Centre for Security, Counter Terrorism and Anti-Insurgency in Jaipur and the Gujarat Forensic Science University in Gandhinagar.”
What is striking is that there seems to be no mention of the men and women who form the police force. The entire scheme seems to be devoted to what might be called ‘hardware’, with a complete absence of attention to ‘software’.
What the final custodians of our law and order and security – one of the newspapers carried a photograph of home minister Rajnath Singh and the minister for law and justice Ravi Shankar Prasad along with their report – seem to be blissfully unaware of the fact that policing is a people-centred activity. Technology and equipment can only be as good as the people who use them.
It should not be surprising that this simple fact may not be known to the political custodians of our security apparatus because the real cause of the inability of our police force to perform their constitutional duties is political interference. This is not only my view, but also of two highly regarded and experienced police officers.
Julio Ribeiro, retired Indian Police Service (IPS) officer, Mumbai police commissioner, Director General of Police (DGP) Gujarat, DGP Punjab and former Indian ambassador to Romania, wrote the following about the Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh fiasco in Panchkula in the Indian Express on September 18, 2017:
“The police in India today are not expected to uphold the rule of law. They are trained to do that, but as soon as officers are absorbed into the system, they quickly learn that all they are required to do is uphold the rule of the party in power… Politicians of all parties and ideologies treat the bureaucracy and the police as private fiefdoms that will bow to their wishes as and when demanded… What I would like to tell the reader is that the undiluted, sole, power to appoint and transfer senior police leaders is presently in the hands of chief ministers. The Supreme Court had ordered the dilution of this power ten years ago in the Prakash Singh case so that police leaders were able to act independently of the political leadership in all matters of law and order and the investigation of crimes. Alas, this has not happened… No state government is willing to relinquish or even loosen its grip on the police with the inevitable consequences that we citizens have been experiencing over the years. Let us consider a few such instances, where deaths of innocents could have been minimised if the police leadership was permitted to carry out its constitutional responsibility of upholding the law… These two examples of how the political stranglehold over the police machinery can distort the entire security scenario should be enough to convince any sensible, thinking Indian citizen that the power of politicians over the police needs to be adjusted by measures that have been suggested by the Supreme Court in the Prakash Singh judgment. Only public pressure can sway the political class… The only solution is to ensure that the police do their duty as per the law of the land. And they will do it if the leadership is competent and free from the yoke of the political class. Police officers will then disregard the wishes of their political masters and uphold only the law and the constitution.”
In 1996, Prakash Singh had filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court, seeking police reforms. The Supreme Court gave its judgment after ten years, in 2006, issuing seven specific directives, saying the following:
“The aforesaid directions shall be complied with by the central government, state governments or union territories, as the case may be, on or before December 31, 2006, so that the bodies afore-noted became operational on the onset of the new year. The cabinet secretary, government of India and the chief secretaries of state governments/union territories are directed to file affidavits of compliance by January 3, 2007.”
Singh, in an article in the Indian Express on September 29, wrote the following about the government’s MPF scheme:
“All said and done, the central government has taken a quantum leap. The umbrella scheme is a positive step and generous financial grants will definitely help. But these must be followed up by structural reforms in the police. The roadmap for the same was laid down by the Supreme Court in 2006. Institutions like the state security commission, police establishment board and complaints authority must be set up in every state in keeping with the directions of the court. Some states have set up these bodies, but packed them with political stooges, limited their charter and curtailed their powers. Whatever limited compliance is claimed, has actually been farcical.”
As an experienced police officer, Singh realises the limitations of technology when he says, “But you just cannot have a sensitive police under the existing dispensation when the police are answerable to the political executive. What we have today is ruler’s police. What we need is people’s police. The police have been accused, with fair justification, of being insensitive to the poor and tribals. Accountability has to be to the constitution, the laws of the land and the people of the country. Reliability would increase only when the police are objective, fair and impartial. Gadgetry won’t help here. It is the state of mind which matters. And to achieve that state of mind, police must be freed from the stranglehold of politicians. Technology would definitely be of great help – it would, in fact, act as a force multiplier. But bereft of sensitivity and accountability to the people, its gains would be limited.”
Ribeiro’s and Singh’s words leave no doubt that the core issue is political interference. But sadly, it is the political class who decides how Rs 25,000 should be spent. Buying equipment is indeed a profitable proposition!
Jagdeep S. Chhokar is a former professor, dean, and director-in-charge of IIM, Ahmedabad. Views are personal.