September 22 is an important day in the history of the police organisation in India. It was on that day in 2006 that the Supreme Court (SC) gave a verdict on the public interest litigation (PIL) filed by a group of senior police officers requesting a direction to the government to implement the recommendation of the Police Commission constituted by the Union government in 1977.
The Commission, headed by the late Dharmavira ICS, former governor of West Bengal, submitted its report in six volumes in the early 80s giving recommendations to improve the functioning and image of the police in a democratic country.
Of the many recommendations, one important one was to replace the old colonial Police Act of 1861 with a new Act. A draft of the model Police Act was also given.
In 1996 Shri Prakash Singh, an IPS officer, filed a PIL in the SC with a request to give directions to the government to implement the National Police Commission reports. The reports were examined, but it was concluded that they could not be acted upon by the Central government, since security and police were State subjects in the Constitution.
The PIL, going through the tortuous path of affidavits and counter affidavits, lasted till 2006 when the SC gave a judgment directing the States to frame Police Acts in accordance with the List 1 of Schedule VII of the Constitution, apart from giving seven salutary directions.
1. Constitute a State Security Commission (SSC) to:
a. Ensure that the State government does not exercise unwarranted influence or pressure on the police.
b. Lay down broad policy guidelines.
c. Evaluate the performance of the State police
2. Ensure that the Director General of Police is appointed through a merit-based, transparent process and secures a minimum tenure of two years.
3. Ensure that other police officers on operational duties (including Superintendents of Police in charge of a district and Station House Officers in charge of a police station) are provided a minimum tenure of two years.
4. Separate the investigation, and law and order functions of the police.
5. Set up a Police Establishment Board (PEB) to decide transfers, postings, promotions and other service related matters of police officers of and below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) and make recommendations on postings and transfers above the rank of DSP.
6. Set up a State level Police Complaints Authority (PCA) to inquire into public complaints against police officers of and above the rank of DSP in cases of serious misconduct, including custodial death, grievous hurt or rape in police custody, and at district levels to look into public complaints against police personnel below the rank of DSP in cases of misconduct.
7. Set up a National Security Commission (NSC) at the Union level to prepare a panel for selection and placement of Chiefs of the Central Police Organisations (CPO) with a minimum tenure of two years.
A model Police Act drafted by a committee headed by Soli Sorabjee, former attorney general, was of the view that States should pass their own Acts. Of the 29 States in the country, 14 enacted a Police Act along the lines indicated by the SC with some modifications.
The police, being in List 2 of Schedule VI, a State subject, the States insisted on having their own laws under Article 246 of the Constitution. This was reinforced by the SC judgment. The SC monitors the implementation of its directives.
There can be no two opinions about the police in India requiring reforms to make them service-oriented and keep up with changing times. The basic function of the police is to prevent crime, maintain order and collect information to ensure security. Maintenance of public order is a huge responsibility in a democratic setup where people are at liberty to vent their grievances on various issues affecting their livelihood, about impediments to peaceful enjoyment of rights that are enshrined in the Constitution.
Rapid urbanisation has given rise to multiple policing problems like land encroachment, a host of economic offences like cheating, money laundering, defalcation of accounts, scams like the Ponzi scam and multi-level marketing schemes to lure unsuspecting consumers, cyber crime and bank frauds.
Internet related offences like stalking, posting obscenities on the social media, indulging in hate crimes, theft of intellectual property like software and design, and illegal hacking pose a great challenge to the police.
The police face three types of challenge — street crime, neighbourhood crime and off- site crime.
International terrorism has a domestic impact and policemen have to be alert to detect movement of suspicious strangers who could be dangerous and destabilise security. The Mumbai terror act on November 26, 2008, when terrorists simultaneously attacked the Central Railway Station, a star hotel holding people to ransom and posh public areas killing people and spreading terror, focused the issue of preparedness of security forces to handle such threats. The terror attack took a toll on 168 innocent lives and caused incalculable damage to the morale of the security forces. This added a new dimension to providing security to important personages and people at large.
A policeman’s job is arduous and mostly thankless as he is condemned for any mishap, but when he prevents a mishap it usually goes unnoticed.
There is a need to strengthen the police to make them answerable to the law and to the people whose security is important. An effective and people-friendly police force can ensure peace and provide a sense of security to people to pursue their lawful activities efficiently.
Community policing is all about involving the public of the local area in all the enforcement functions of the police. A policeman cannot enforce laws in isolation — he requires the cooperation of the people which can be earned only by reaching out to people. It definitely cannot be done through threat or hostility.
In simple words, police reforms are needed to ensure that the police force evolves to be people friendly and works with the people that it’s meant to protect.