Sunday, May 3, 2015
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Amidst Chaos. Source: Harni Calamur/Flickr
POLICING OF a state is considered to be a vital and indeed, the backbone of any state. The importance of a strong police force can be enhanced by the fact that it is not mandated to simply maintain law and order in a state, but in fact is the very instrument that allows for peace and security in any environment. 
 
In the context of India, British colonial rule was primarily based on the effective functioning of the police force. They were to be trained well, paid less and were simply expected to do whatever it takes to keep the ‘native’ population in check. In essence, the police was given a lot of power, which as we all know, corrupts.
 
This doesn’t seem to have changed much in ‘modern’ India as most states have a police law that adopts or reflects the basic ideas of the 1861 legislation. The police are still trained, paid minimally, put to odd times and jobs. Yet they remain in a position of power over the rest of the citizens, which is then used to extract money, and other favours. Political control further aggravates the situation.
 
This is why the need for reform of the police force was felt and the first commission to look into the matter was set up in 1979. The reform proposal were indeed set out (though much later) and they were mandated by the Supreme Court in 2006. However, these reforms were not really acted upon, and if done, it was merely a lip service. 
The police are still trained, paid minimally, put to odd times and jobs. Yet they remain in a position of power over the rest of the citizens, which is then used to extract money, and other favours. This is why the need for reform of the police force was felt and the first commission to look into the matter was set up in 1979. 
We talk to Devika Prasad, who works with police reforms programme of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, to understand the shortcomings. 
 
Q. Do you think that with the proposed police reforms, the traditional idea of 'policing' as being a minimalist function of the state machinery might change? Is this, in your view, a positive change?
 
I do not believe that policing is a minimalist function at all. It is a very significant and powerful function. It is the only arm of the state that is legally mandated to use force. At the same time, the level of accountability needs to be increased since the police has the legal backing to use force along with that to take away liberty of the people. 
 
Policing still remains the most basic function since colonial times and has not changed. It is still centered on how to control the public. However, these functions are mostly carried out on behest of those in power, with the power of the police force not increasing much. The reforms haven’t been a complete success, but certainly mark a great step forward. We can always give the example of Kerala, where the reforms have had a great impact. We need to break down further the embedded culture in the Indian Police forces of total supervision from the top.
The reforms haven’t been a complete success, but certainly mark a great step forward. We need to break down further the embedded culture in the police forces of total supervision from the top 
Q. The directive on State Security Commission attempts to address the accusations of political 'supervision' and 'control' over the police. However, the debate in Delhi is for state government's control over the police. Please comment on the nature of this debate. 
 
The first thing to remember is that there is nothing wrong with political "supervision" of the police. It is every government's legitimate responsibility to exercise oversight over the police. Problems arise when the political executive starts exerting 'illegitimate interference' in policing. Examples of this range from violations in individual cases - directing the police to plant a false case on a political opponent or dissenter for instance - to inciting communal riots and giving police tacit orders to not intervene.
 
Basically, when politicians start using the police for their own ends, this is no longer part of their legitimate oversight role. It is very important to understand, articulate and codify the extent of the political executive's legitimate oversight role over the police, and importantly what the executive cannot do.
 
As for Delhi, the debate really must be seen in the larger political context, in the sense that the debate itself has become subsumed in the politics, and larger issues are getting lost. Firstly, the issue of bringing the Delhi Police under the control of the state government is not a simple one. It requires constitutional amendments, which will have to be done by Parliament. I personally don't think it is realistic to think that this will happen. 
 
The issue of bringing Delhi Police under the control of the state government is not a simple one. It requires constitutional amendments, which will have to be done by Parliament. I personally don't think it is realistic to think that this will happen. 
Secondly, as you rightly bring up the directive on the State Security Commission which addresses the problem of political interference, no one in the political dispensation is even talking about this directive. The SSC is meant to be a buffer body between the police and the politician, and play an important policy-making and planning function for policing.
 
The Chief Minister of Delhi sits on the State Security Commission and can exert a strong influence over policy-making over the Delhi Police through the SSC.  In fact, the security commission for the NCT of Delhi was constituted in 2011, but since then, it has met only five times (three meetings in 2012 and two in 2013).  There is clearly no will or inclination to make use of the mechanism like SSC to not only improve policing, but also shape a proper and credible relationship between the police and the political executive. 
The SSC is meant to be a buffer body between the police and the politician, and play an important policy-making and planning function for policing. The Chief Minister of Delhi sits on the State Security Commission and can exert a strong influence over policy-making over the Delhi Police through the SSC
Q. The issue of gender has been brought into the debates on police reforms through a detailed section in Justice Verma committee report that came out in the wake of the  Delhi gang rape case in 2012. However, we don't see much focus on the issue of protecting women, or women in the police force. 
 
It is true that the issue of gender does not figure into the Supreme Court's directives on police reform. But these are, after all, one very narrow aspect of the systemic reforms which are needed. It’s also true that the issue of gender was brought forcefully back into the public debate through the Justice Verma Committee report, but it’s not that the issues of protecting women, and women police, are being neglected.
 
The Parliamentary Committee on the Empowerment of Women brought out a very comprehensive report on improving the conditions of women police in 2013, and it recently published a report on the action taken by government on its earlier report. But it’s always the case that implementation does not happen - the Committee reported that very little action has been taken. 
 
On protecting women, there has been immense legal reform since 2013 to better codify sexual assault, and many police departments are definitely thinking about better ways to strengthen women's safety. But it is a fact that until the basic reforms do not happen, which are beyond the Court's directives, it is unrealistic to think that policing will make a quantum leap to suddenly be very efficient in protecting women. These are tough complex issues.
Until the basic reforms do not happen, which are beyond the Court's directives, it is unrealistic to think that policing will make a quantum leap to suddenly be very efficient in protecting women. These are tough complex issues
Q. What are the reasons, in your opinion, for the political community of the nation as whole to not take the directives for reforms seriously? 
 
The most insightful answer on this will come from a candid politician!  I think it boils down to how politicians view their control over the police and that they would like to retain this control. In a most basic sense, it’s about retaining the perceived freedom to use the police as they would like and not having to answer to anyone for this use, whether legitimate or not. 
 
Q. How do you think that the directives for the police reforms will change the nature of policing with special regard to the issue of custodial deaths and police harassing?
 
There is a directive which requires the setting up of Police Complaints Authorities in every state, which are designed as independent public complaints bodies. Their mandate requires that among others, they look into the most serious complaints of death, torture and rape in custody.
 
But after so many years of the judgment, there are complaints authorities only in a few states - less than 10. Many of them have been constituted not in compliance with the directive. There are problems with them from composition to powers. Some are trying very hard to fulfill their mandate. 
I don't think any single directive on police reform can change the nature of policing, and certainly even the directives together, while they can play a significant role, bringing change to policing requires wide and numerous reforms.  These efforts must start from the police station level. 
I don't think any single directive on police reform can change the nature of policing, and certainly even the directives together, while they can play a significant role, bringing change to policing requires wide and numerous reforms.  These efforts must start from the police station level. 


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