Will SC Watch Helplessly as States Trifle with its Police Reforms Ruling?

Will SC Watch Helplessly as States Trifle with its Police Reforms Ruling?

Every revolution has within it the seeds of counter-revolution.  While one group tries to bring about radical changes in the existing set up, there is always a rival group which clings on to the status quo and resists every effort to disturb the prevailing equations. Historian René Rémond described them as légitimistes. Something similar is happening with the efforts to bring about changes in the colonial policing system of the country. 

The Supreme Court gave a historic judgment in 2006 to reorganise, restructure and rejuvenate the police force of the country. It gave directions to insulate the police from extraneous pressures, give it a measure of autonomy in personnel matters, and prescribed a procedure to ensure that only the very best officer got elevated to the highest office and was assured of a minimum tenure of two years. Officers holding operational assignments in the field were also guaranteed a fixed tenure. Directions were given to separate investigation from law and order so that the quality of investigation improved. At the same time, the court directed greater monitoring of complaints against the police and desired that complaints authorities be set up at the state and district levels to look into complaints of serious misconduct against policemen.

The directions were to be implemented by the end of March 2007 but, disappointingly, there has not been much forward movement. Police reforms during the last eight years has been a story of defiance of the Supreme Court, enactment of laws which mock at the court’s directions and, at best, fraudulent compliance. Some states were particularly clever. They took advantage of the proviso in the judgment that the guidelines shall be “operative till the new legislation is enacted by the state governments”. They found in it an escape clause. These states did in great hurry what they had not done for the last 60 years.  They (17 states) passed police acts legitimising the status quo or making cosmetic changes only. The remaining states passed executive orders purportedly in compliance of the court’s directions, but an analysis of these shows that the court’s directions were diluted and modified, if not altogether subverted.

The court, for example, wanted State Security Commission to be set up to act as a watchdog body, ensuring that the state governments did not interfere in the functioning of the police and, on the other hand, the police did not transgress the limits of law. The state governments, however, filled this body with members who either did not enjoy good reputation or were known to be stooges of the ruling party. Its charter was also diluted. The court wanted its recommendations to be binding, but the states gave it advisory role only. And so, the purpose of setting up State Security Commission was effectively frustrated.

It was the same story with the Police Complaints Authority. A study carried out by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative brought out that the authorities set up by the state governments “suffer from serious infirmities in terms of their independence, composition, powers and resources”. The people who approached the complaints bodies were “disappointed at best, and convinced of its impotency at worst”.

The majority of states are defying the procedure for the appointment of DGP and are least bothered about giving him a prescribed tenure.  Uttar Pradesh has shown its brazen contempt of court’s orders by appointing DGPs for periods as short as one month and two months.

The Government of India has made its own contribution to the confusion. Its Ministry of Personnel issued an order which was contrary to the Supreme Court’s order of 2006, setting up a Police Establishment Board. Fortunately, the court has stayed the operation of the ministry’s order. 

So, where does this lead us to? Will the counter-revolutionaries prevail? It will be a sad day for India. If the country is to emerge as a progressive modern state with a vibrant democracy and thriving economy, there is absolutely no option to police reforms. Would the people of the country not raise their voice for a police which gives primacy to upholding the rule of law? Would the media remain content with only finding faults with the police? Would the apex court watch helplessly the states’ trifling with its directions?

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The New Indian Express