COMBATING TERROR: NEED FOR POLICE REFORMS


Policing is perhaps more difficult in India than in any other part of the world. The plethora of problems that Indian police forces face is quite amazing. Let us consider a comparison with the U.S. police. Arguably, the three biggest security problems of the U.S. are: firstly, racial problems between blacks and whites, secondly, illegal migrations from Mexico, and thirdly, the threat of terror. When viewed in the Indian context, in place of racial problems, we have caste tensions and communal problems, which are far bigger and more complex than the racial problems which confront the U.S. Illegal migrations from Bangladesh are on a much bigger scale and dimension than the illegal migrations from Mexico, and are far more sinister as it leads to changes in the demography of the country and adds to India’s communal problem. Terrorism poses a limited threat to U.S. India, on the other hand, is the sixth most affected country by terrorism in the world. Comparisons carried out with other countries will also show that India has similar problems on a much larger scale.

What makes things more complicated is that India’s police forces have to work in an environment which is far from congenial. The political class exploits the police to further their political ends and objectives. The bureaucracy is not sympathetic to the police and misses no opportunity to undercut the Indian Police Service. The public is indifferent to the police, and the media treats the police as a convenient punching bag. On top of that, the living and working conditions of the police personnel are poor, to say the least. India’s police forces thus have to handle a variety of very difficult challenges in an environment that is far from congenial. It is a matter of great concern that even nearly seven decades after independence, we have not cared to reform, restructure or rejuvenate the police. A report written in 1902 by a Commission appointed by Lord Curzon makes an interesting reading. It says:

“The police force is far from efficient. It is defective in training and organisation, it is inadequately supervised, it is generally regarded as corrupt and oppressive, and it has utterly failed to secure the confidence and cordial cooperation of the people… The police force throughout the country is in a most unsatisfactory condition, abuses are common everywhere, and this involves great injury to the people, and discredit to the government. Radical reforms are urgently necessary.”

This report could well have been written in the present times! It is as true today as when it was written 114 years ago. Time seems to have stood still for the police. There has been no change. It was corrupt then, it is corrupt now. It was oppressive then, it is oppressive now. It did not have the confidence of the people then and it does not have the confidence of the people today. Probably the deterioration is sharper and police is in a worse state today because of the nexus that has developed between the criminals, police, bureaucrats and the politicians. This aspect was not there in 1902, when the Commission talked of radical reforms being an urgent necessity. Today, more than a century later, we are still talking and struggling to bring about reforms in the police. It is a sad commentary on our leadership, on their understanding of the importance of the police, and on their appreciation of the need for police reforms.

Security Challenges
Against this backdrop of the failure to reform the police forces, we face multidimensional security challenges. Foremost amongst these is the threat of terrorism. This is a very serious threat, which has not being taken seriously in the country, regardless of which party was in power at the Centre. Terrorism receives attention only when there is a crisis, or an explosion, or when there is mass killing. Soon thereafter attention gets diverted to other issues and things carry on as usual. The threat of terrorism is serious because terrorists are opposed to the very idea of India. They attack India politically, socially, economically and culturally to seek the destruction of the country. Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru therefore come under attack because these are the political, commercial and IT nervecentres of India respectively. Incidents are perpetrated in Ayodhya because these elements want to create a religious divide. Many years ago, the LeT chief, while speaking from a mosque, said:

“if people had talked of the disintegration of the Soviet Union, they would have laughed at that person… But today, I announce the disintegration of India – and we shall not rest until the Moghul rule is reestablished”.

More recently, Syed Salahudeen, head of terrorist organisation, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, said, “We will make Kashmir the graveyard of Indian security forces”. All these are ominous words and would have to be taken seriously. In the Northeast we continue to have multiple insurgencies. In August 2015, a ‘framework agreement’ was announced with the NSCN (IM), and it was stated that a final settlement of the Naga problem would take place shortly within the next three months or so. While the dialogue is moving in the right direction, the stated outcome seems unlikely in the near future. Left Wing Extremism (LWE) continues to affect large swathes of Central India. While it is being contained, and the number of affected districts have come down from about 182 to 106, its eradication is still a long way off. It would be wise to remember that the movement was contained twice earlier also, but it resurfaced again because the basic issues remained unaddressed. When Charu Mazumdar was arrested and he died in prison, it was thought that the movement was over, but it resurrected. Later, when Kondapalli Seetharamiah was arrested and the People’s War Group was virtually decimated, it was again believed that the movement had tapered of. The movement however revived. The security forces can deliver up to a point only. Thereafter, the administration has to step in and fill up the vacuum, which it has not been doing. In the absence of administration establishing itself in areas cleared by the security forces, we invariably see resurgence of the problem in course of time.

Border management is another major challenge as India has more than 15,000 km of land border and more than 5000 km. of coastline to protect. This is an extremely difficult task, and yet the much derided police and Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) have guarded the border with fairly good results.

Future Threats
Potential future challenges are in a nascent stage but are fast building up. The most significant of these is the threat of Islamic State. While government maintains that the number of people radicalised is very small, but considering the large size of the Muslim population in India, as stated in the U.S. Counter Terrorism Report of 2014, the future scenario could be very grim. An analysis of the comments which appeared on FaceBook, after the Charlie Hebdo attack, is quite revealing. Support for the attackers came not just from the major towns but also from smaller towns like Bhilwara, Buxar and other places and included all sections of society like students, doctors, engineers, advocates, lawyers, et al. Radicalisation is thus taking place in a big way, though the number of people who have gone abroad to fight for the Islamic State may be small.

Another looming threat is maritime security. We have a three-tier security system, comprising the marine police, the Coast Guard and the Indian Navy. But it is a huge coastline and there remain many chinks in our armour. We have to be careful of our coastline being exploited by elements not well disposed to the country. Yet another threat is of cybercrimes and cyber terrorism, the dimensions of which are going to be formidable. We are a great IT power, but an average cyber power.

Response Strategies:
How should the state police forces and the CAPF cope with these threats? As stated earlier, the state police forces are in a shambles because nobody has paid serious attention to the subject of police reforms. In the first few decades after independence, the policemen managed to run the show reasonably well because the first generation of bureaucrats and police officers were inspired by the ideals of freedom and the desire to do something for the country. During the Emergency, the police, as recorded by the Shah Commission, “ was used for purposes they were not meant for and some police officers behaved as if they are not accountable at all to any public authority”.

How should the state police forces and the CAPF cope with these threats? As stated earlier, the state police forces are in a shambles because nobody has paid serious attention to the subject of police reforms. In the first few decades after independence, the policemen managed to run the show reasonably well because the first generation of bureaucrats and police officers were inspired by the ideals of freedom and the desire to do something for the country. During the Emergency, the police, as recorded by the Shah Commission, “ was used for purposes they were not meant for and some police officers behaved as if they are not accountable at all to any public authority”

The colonial police system stands fully discredited. To reform it, several Commissions and Committees, were appointed. The National Police Commission, submitted a very comprehensive report in eight volumes. However, its recommendations were not implemented for political reasons. The Report was sent to the states, but the forwarding letter stated that the government had reservations about some paragraphs, and the states were asked to take action as deemed necessary, indicating that the Centre was not serious about its implementation.

Subsequently, a public interest litigation (PIL) was filed in 1996, seeking implementation of the salient recommendations of the National Police Commission Report. The Supreme Court gave a historic verdict in 2006, containing six important directives. These were:

• Constitute a State Security Commission to insulate the police from extraneous pressures.

• Set up a Police Establishment Board (PEB) to decide transfers, postings, promotions and other service related
matters of police officers of and below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police and make recommendations on
postings and transfers above the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police.

• Set up Police Complaints Authority (PCA) at state and district levels to increase accountability of the police.

• Ensure that the DGP is appointed through merit based transparent process for a minimum tenure of two years.

• Ensure that other police officers on operational duties (including Superintendents of Police in-charge of a
district and Station House Officers in-charge of a police station) are also provided a minimum tenure of two
years.

• Separate the investigation and law and order functions of the police.

• The seventh directive was for the Centre to set up a National Police Commission.

The Supreme Court judgement had a proviso that the directions would hold good till such time as the Centre or the state governments passed their own laws on the subject. This was a necessary insertion because the Apex Court could fill a legislative vacuum but it could not legislate. To circumvent the Supreme Court directions, the states hurriedly passed laws which legitimised the existing arrangements! Some states passed executive orders purportedly in compliance of the Supreme Court directives, but effectively diluting or amending them. The Centre also disappointed. It was expected that the Centre would be the first to pass a Model Act for Delhi. The Act had already been drafted by Soli Sorabjee, but the government has been dragging its feet over its implementation till date. The Supreme Court directives, it is emphasized, are not for the glory of the police, but for radical improvements in its functioning and for better enforcement of the Rule of Law in the country. The recommendations however do not suit the political class and the bureaucracy. And so, there is stalemate. This battle can be won only when a substantial majority of people articulate their views and express theirsupport for police reforms.

Enhancing the Capabilities

There are a number of other measures which would need to be taken to build the capability of the police forces. There is huge shortage of manpower, which as of now is about five lakh policeman. This is compounded by the fact that a large number of policemen are diverted for unauthorised duties, like VIP duties etc. At the central level, the open ended expansion of Central Armed Police Forces must stop. Some of these have become too large and unwieldy.

There are infrastructural shortages also in respect of transport, communications and forensic facilities. Many police stations are sans telephones and wireless sets. More than six lakh exhibits are lying for examination in different forensic labs of the country. Gujarat has done well in this respect and is the only state to have its own Forensic Sciences University – the only university across the world dedicated to Forensic & Investigative Science. Gujarat also has mobile forensic labs which take care of the districts. In other states, the facilities are poor and would have to be upgraded.

The government must also improve the housing facilities for policemen. Training of the force requires much more attention. Time has come to post the best police officers for training, rather than sending the discarded ones to the institution. Control rooms must be upgraded and steps taken to expedite the setting up of a national emergency response system. Commissionerate system must be introduced in all cities with population of more than a million. Modernisation of the police must get high priority.

CCTNS (Crime and Criminal Tracking Network System) seeks to network police stations across the country. The project was to be completed by 2012, but has been delayed, and is proposed to be completed by 2017. NATGRID (National Intelligence Grid) is another project, which has been making slow progress.

Both these projects must be expedited. The CBI exists on the basis of a Resolution passed on 1 April 1963 and it derives its investigative powers from the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act. This is an absurd situation. Several committees have recommended that the CBI should have its own statute to govern its functioning. This must be done forthwith. We must also have an Organised Crimes Act to deal with crimes like money laundering, trafficking in arms, drug trafficking, trafficking in women and girls, etc. Cyber crimes need to be handled by qualified personnel dedicated for the purpose. The same should be done for social crimes also.

It is also essential that the police is placed in the Concurrent List of the Constitution. If that is not found feasible and there is resistance from the states, government should consider defining federal crimes and entrusting their investigation to the CBI / NIA, as recommended by the Second Administrative Reforms Commission. Government must also codify its internal security doctrine.

India’s state police forces and CAPFs have a combined strength of over three million. The focus should be on reorganising, restructuring and rejuvenating these forces. Well organised, adequately equipped, well trained, motivated, ably led and properly utilised, they would transform the internal security scenario of the country.

An Indian Police Service Officer of the 1959 batch, Shri Prakash Singh served as the Director General (DGP) of both the Uttar Pradesh Police and Assam Police. Thereafter, he served as the DG BSF. A strong advocate for Police Reforms, he filed, after his retirement in 1996, a Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court of India in pursuance of the same. Recipient of the Padma Shri, Singh has authored many books dealing with national security. He submitted a comprehensive report on the role of officers of civil administration and police during the Jat reservation agitation in Haryana. This article is based on a talk given by the author at the Vivekananda International Foundation on 15 September 2016.

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