As per the recently released data on crime by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), the Indian criminal justice system is failing under its own weight of pendency.
Criminal cases take years to convict or acquit accused and citizens spend precious time in visiting police stations, offices of prosecutors or lawyers, and courts. Imagine the economic cost of this for a country that is facing serious issues of poverty and health! To deal with this humungous challenge, we need alternate strategies and out-of-the-box thinking. The Chief Justice of India has highlighted this need too. We need more judges and prosecutors for time-bound trials, and we also need to overhaul the Police.
After studying various reports of Police Commissions and Committees on the workings of the police, the Supreme Court of India had advised a way out. In a writ filed by Prakash Singh and others, the court on 22nd September 2006 mandated seven basic reforms that focused on the creation of a merit-based police department. Police being a state subject, these path breaking reforms would have to be implemented by State Governments. However, this would mean reduction in the control of politicians on the police, hence they are shying away from it.
The court has recommended that all appointments, transfers and promotions of Police officers be based on merit. Currently, they are dependent on the likings and preferences of ruling parties in the States. As a result, police stations, districts and commissionerates end up being headed by incompetent and corrupt police officers. Ultimately, it is citizens who suffer the most.
The court has directed the creation of ‘Establishment Boards’ in each state for selection of officers and to attend to their service matters. It has also mandated fixed tenure for police officers as spending reasonable time in a position enables police leaders to execute professional policing. A fixed tenure also ensures that they are not at the mercy of the politicians who, in the current scenario, transfer them whenever there is any difference of opinion.
The Supreme Court has further directed that Heads of the state police have to be selected after the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) scrutinises their service records and prepares a panel of deserving senior most officers. It is expected that a strong and qualified leader thus selected shall improve police performance and the satisfaction of citizens thereby.
Another very important reform is separation of law and order, and crime. This would reduce the workload of police officers and allow them to concentrate more on crime prevention and investigation. Conviction of criminals will improve and so will the general atmosphere in the society. Since it will mean recruiting more police officers and allocating more financial resources to the police, the states have been postponing the implementation of this reform as well.
Creating Security Commissions at the Centre and in States, as directed by the Supreme Court, will ensure robust policymaking. The Centre and some States have established these bodies, but they are rarely convened and thus are yet to show any fruitful results.
The last very important reform suggested by the court has been to create ‘Police Complaint Authorities’ at the district and state levels. These Authorities are expected to enquire into the allegations against the police. With recent cases of harassment, torture, and human rights violations by law enforcing agencies, such an authority is expected to hold the delinquent officers accountable. However, clever political parties appoint members who are close to them and stall meaningful enquiries.
Had the seven reforms of the 2006 Supreme Court judgment been implemented seriously, citizens’ fear of the police would have reduced considerably. The police themselves would not have been overworked and grown to be a more professional force. It is true that this order of the Supreme Court alone would not have singlehandedly changed the scenario, but it would have surely been a definite step towards a more citizen-friendly, merit-based police department.
Yet, time and again, it is seen that the self-centred politicians loathe to loosen their control on the police. To them, their own vested interests are primary and those of the citizens, secondary.
We must collectively build pressure on them to implement the reforms of 2006. We must ensure that each political party makes police reforms an integral part of their election manifesto and pursue their implementation to the last detail.
We as citizens of India do not need any more Committees on improving the police. All we need is to build pressure for ensuring that the reforms as suggested by the Supreme Court of India on 22nd Sep 2006, after an in-depth study of the issue, are implemented. Let’s join hands and create public awareness on this very significant issue that touches our daily lives.
Dr Meeran Chadha Borwankar, IPS
Dr Meeran Chadha Borwankar, IPS is the former Commissioner of Police, Pune. She retired as DG National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) and Bureau of Police Research & Development (BPR&D).
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