Who Really Failed Them?

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Baltimore

The recent Baltimore uprising in the American state of Maryland following the death of a black teenager — Freddie Grey — allegedly at the hands of police shook the conscience of not only the Americans but also of the world. Indians condemned the happenings and pledged solidarity with the victims of racism. But, we conveniently ignored the pivotal issue of reforms in police force, with which the menace of racism is intricately linked.

This writer was born in India but brought up in Saudi Arabia and still remembers that for any trivial issue, including someone parking a car in front of your gate, the first port of call was ‘999’. Every resident believes that a response party shall reach out in five minutes. And their belief is always correct. Is this the situation in India? Why is it not so?

It is important to understand the history of policing in India in order to understand where things went wrong. The colonial British wanted a system to assert its authority over the less fortunate Indians and found the Royal Irish Constabulary model, first introduced in Sindh Province, now in Pakistan, successful. It was adopted in other parts of India. In the aftermath of the first war of Indian independence in 1857, which they brutally crushed, the Police Act of 1861 was brought into force.

The colonial era Police Act still continues in almost all states of India. Constitutional policing understanding the concept of right to life and personal liberty is urgently needed. The Supreme Court in 2006 delivered a landmark Judgement, popularly known as the Prakash Singh case, requiring the union and state governments to urgently kick-start police reforms.

Here the Supreme Court directive starts with the establishment of a State Security Commission to evaluate the performance of the state Police and also to ensure that the state government does not exercise unwarranted influence or pressure on the Police.

Sir Robert Peel, former British Home Secretary, who is often referred to as the Father of Modern Policing, wanted to give legitimacy to his pet initiative – London Metropolitan Police. One of the principles that he adopted for the same was that Police must be under government control. This principle was adopted in independent India also. Over the years, it has led to a political-police nexus that it became a common practice with every change in political leadership, police leadership will also change. The Director General of Police is often selected on the basis of his political loyalty to the leader of the ruling party and not based on merits.

The high post of State Police Chief comes with a price; he gives up his power of decision making. Hiring, firing, managing and assigning personnel must be part of the work of senior police leadership as Police — being a uniformed force — follows a centralised, quasi military organisational structure with a unified chain of command.

All these form one side of the coin. The other side of the coin is what directly affects the society- the law enforcement. The quality of the criminal justice system to a great extend is dependent on the working of the men in uniform as India, like many common law countries, adopted Accusatorial system of Trial which is distinct from the Inquisitorial system where the Judge or group of Judges investigates the case.

The Malimath Committee on Judicial Reforms says, ‘The State discharges the obligation to protect life, liberty and property of the citizens by taking suitable preventive and punitive measures which also serve the object of preventing private retribution so essential for maintenance of peace.’

In order to make sure that the criminal justice system does not fail and subsequently lead to private retribution, we have to fix the flaws. The main flaw in the working of the police is due to the clubbing of Law and Order with Investigations.

The officer in charge of a police station in India with his limited man power is expected to undertake: crime prevention, night patrol, crime investigation, VIP Security, traffic control, collection of Intelligence, riot control, bundobust duties during demonstrations, processions, strikes, protests, presenting the accused to court, aiding in discharging the duties of other departments like Court, Revenue, Civil Supplies, Verification for Passport, Public Service Commission, etc. Now can you expect the station-in charge to perform any better? At present, it is often seen that Investigation is stalled when there is a pressing law and order situation or on the rise of a new crime. End result is failing in both, and people losing hope.

The Supreme Court says, ‘The investigating police shall be separated from the law and order police to ensure speedier investigation, better expertise and improved rapport with the people. It must, however, be ensured that there is full coordination between the two wings’.

The implementation of this is stalled mainly by top brass who fear a loss of power and glamour for the post of District Superintendent of Police, Range Inspector General of Police etc. Instead of creating a special Crime Bureau at the state level with district and station level men, many states did and eyewash in the form of creation of a crime desk and post of Crime Inspectors at police station level. My enquiries led to the conclusion that the system is ineffective due to the non-separation of investigation desk from the watertight compartment.

Punjab recently created history by implementing the segregation of Law and Order (L&O) from Investigations and created a separate Bureau of Investigations (BoI) which will be responsible for investigation work from police station level to district level to state headquarters. Though good news is coming in from some quarters, majority of the states are still reluctant. History should not hold those officers who err while discharging duties in good faith, as culprits. Our system failed them.

Domain of policing has expanded. Crime patterns are changing. New challenges are emerging every day. Are we capable enough to face these new challenges with the existing policing system?

Tailpiece:  The Royal Irish Constabulary from which India derived its policing system was disbanded when Irish Free State was created in 1922!

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