Verma committee report: Police reforms are the key

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The infamous gang rape incident of Delhi has had reverberations across the world. The European Parliament, in a resolution, while welcoming the measures already initiated by government, called for a more coordinated response to gender-based violence. The IMF Chief, Christine Lagard, dedicated the “moment” to Damini (the Delhi gang rape victim) during her speech at the World Economic Forum.

Within the country, there is, fortunately, a healthy debate on several important issues like governance of Delhi, the adequacy of existing laws on crimes against women, the justification of use of force on peaceful crowds which have a legitimate grievance, the apathy of citizens to victims of crime, et al. The Justice Verma Committee, which was appointed to suggest suitable amendments in criminal law to provide for quicker trial and enhanced punishment to criminals committing crimes against women, has come up with a useful report which should strengthen the criminal justice system in achieving gender justice. The root cause for the current “unsafe environment”, as pointed out by the Committee, is the “failure of good governance”.

A number of measures have already been announced to improve police response to crimes against women – more visible night patrolling, increase in the number of PCR vans, checking of private buses, more help lines, etc. These knee-jerk reactions would however not take us far. The police needs comprehensive structural reforms. This was appropriately emphasised by Justice Verma when he called for “full compliance” of the Supreme Court’s directions of 2006, and said that this was of “utmost priority to national welfare including the welfare of women and children”. The Committee urged all the states “to tackle systemic problems in policing” and deplored that the judgment had not been implemented so far. “Any political interference or extraneous influence in the performance of the statutory duty by a policeman”, the Committee said, could not be “condoned” and the accountability of the police is “only to the law and to no one else in the discharge of their duty”.

It must be understood that police reforms, which essentially mean giving functional autonomy to the police, are not for the glory of the police. They are essentially to transform the colonial police into an instrument of service to the people, to metamorphose the present ‘Rulers’ Police’ into a ‘People’s Police’ accountable to the laws of the land and committed to upholding the Constitution of the country.

A reformed and restructured police is essential not only to uphold the rule of law but also to safeguard our democratic structure and sustain the momentum of economic progress. The gradual infiltration of criminal elements into the legislatures and the parliament is the greatest threat to our democracy. Insulation of police from extraneous pressures is absolutely necessary to deal with such elements. The Committee’s suggestion to disqualify a candidate, in the event of a magistrate taking cognizance of an offence against him, would go a long way in cleaning up the polity. Besides, economic progress can take place only in an atmosphere of good law and order.

The scope of police reforms should not be considered limited to the directions given by the Supreme Court. The Justice Verma Committee has rightly placed emphasis on certain other aspects of police functioning – the filing and registration of complaints, improvement in infrastructure at the police stations, adequate forensic support down to the district level, improving police welfare, community policing, performance appraisal based not on statistical figures but on yardsticks like public satisfaction, safety and security of women and success in preventing incidents of communal violence. The police, above all, must have a “moral vision” for the performance of its statutory duties.