J Beniks and P Jeyaraj recently succumbed to injuries sustained while in custody at Sathankulam police station in Tuticorin district of Tamil Nadu, and Vikas Dubey and his associates were killed in police encounters near Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh.
Such incidents have become a recurring feature of our police working. The problem is that we have vested enormous power in policemen but given them an environment which, instead of improving their efficiency, forces them to act violently.
A policeman has really no choice but to compromise with criminals, politicians and numerous others who claim entitlement to circumvent law, to survive. He protects them because they protect him more than his own officers. The reasons are obvious.
Police, which is essentially meant to investigate crime, enforce law, and maintain law and order, has additionally been burdened with duties such as managing traffic, removing encroachments, protecting and escorting countless VIPs, carrying out rescue operations during natural disasters and handling cases related to violation of prohibition and COVID-19 guidelines. This list keeps growing. The pity is that the means provided to the police by the governments to fulfil these responsibilities are abysmal.
Junior officers who constitute 94 percent of the police force work 14 to 16 hours a day. Weekly day-off for them is rare because 28 percent posts remain permanently vacant. A one-room dingy apartment is all that 26 percent constables have.
The rest hire accommodation after paying five times their house allowance. Constables (86 percent of the force) get promoted only once in their life time. The weapons shortage is staggering 77 percent and vehicle deficiency is 35.5 percent. This situation exists because state governments spend 1.2 to 2.7 percent of their annual budget on the police. That we still live reasonably safe is indeed a miracle.
Since 1977, various police commissions and committees have unsuccessfully tried to address this sorry state of affairs. The Supreme Court has also issued guidelines suggesting constitution of State Security Committee in states to ensure that governments do not exercise unwarranted influence over police and lay down policy for their functioning, creation of Police Establishment Board to decide posting, transfer and promotion of officers, formation of Police Complaint Authority, minimum and fixed tenure for senior officers and separation of investigation from law and order.
It is nothing more than an eyewash. The fact is, no political executive will ever give away his control over police because it helps him remain in power through fear and repression. Similarly, chief ministers will find ways to have final say in postings, transfers and promotions. They may agree to incrementally meet the shortage of manpower, housing and vehicles but conceding functional independence to police is out of question.
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