Sunday, January 07, 2007

Police Reform In India - Political Opposition Starts Emerging

In the midst of all the bitter reactions against the state of UP and Government agencies for their inaction in preventing the mass murder of children in Noida, another aspect of police reform is moving very slowly (and silently). There are not too many news articles on this topic, it does not gather headlines or breaking news, but is very important to ensure that the police is able to convert itself into an agency that is able to handle problems effectively, fearlessly and without shackles. What is this topic that I am talking about?

Even when the need for a broad reform of the police force and its handling has been apparent for a number of years, the Government has refused to take any action. As a result, on the basis of a case filed by a former BSF chief, the Supreme Court took on the task of ordering reform in the way the police force is organized and controlled. The reform agenda for the police force was outlined in a judgement by the Supreme Court in September 2006; this is now under serious challenge from the Chief Ministers of several states in India (using various guises and excuses).

A good synopsis of the points under the order and the resistance being expressed by various chief ministers is outlined in the Indian Express story.
An excerpt about the directions of the Court:

The following SC directions, CMs say, infringe on the powers of a state since law and order is a state subject
• Set up a State Security Commission to ensure that state govt does not exercise unwarranted influence or pressure on the police.
• DGP to be selected by state from three seniormost officers empanelled for promotion by UPSC; DGP should have a minimum tenure of 2 years
• 2-yr minimum tenure for IGP, DIG, SP and SHO too
• Set up Police Establishment Board to decide on transfers, postings, promotions of officers of and below rank of DSP.
• Police Complaint Authority at district level to look into complaints against police officers up to the rank of DSP.
• Another such authority at the state Level to look into complaints against officers of the rank of SP and above. All recommendations binding on the authority.
• Centre should set up National Security Commission to prepare panel for selection and placement of Chiefs of Central Police Organisations with minimum tenure of two yrs.

States are opposing these steps under the guise that these break the spirit of the constitution, that 'law and order' is a state subject and any central intervention is against the constitution and so on. The important question is, how many citizens would not want the following things to happen?

1. The police force to be made accountable for their mis-deeds.
2. If point 1 happens, then the next most important thing would be to make the police force to some extent independent of political influence (especially in terms of prevention of influenced postings, investigations, framing of opponents and protecting the rich/powerful).

This order of the Supreme Court is the first step in making these changes happen, but at the given moment, there is an incredible amount of opposition to these steps. No guessing as to why; loss of influence over the police force would be a body blow to these venal politicians, the police force is one of their chief weapons to project power; the power to transfer the honest policemen and bring in their own is like a killer weapon; for the party, the use of moneypower in postings brings in much needed revenue necessary for politics!

This Supreme Court order has the potential to cause a severe blow to the current arrangements. Hence the opposition that we are seeing; on this issue, all political parties will speak in one voice. The idea appears to be to lock this issue out through opposition, through filing of review petitions in the court, and eventually to make this issue die down without any actual change happening.

This issue is however not being given the due importance in the media (apart from an initial burst when the case was decided), there are hardly any talk shows or headline news on this; it gets a mention in newspapers without any editorials or opinions; in my view, this is one of the most significant happenings in the field of law and order and immensly important to this nation.

For those of you reading this and in a position to try and shape public opinion, please get this issue out in the open and in discussions to as many people as possible.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 8:36 PM