Notwithstanding the recent police reforms executed at the instance of the Supreme Court of India, there is still a lot which need to be done to enable the police to carry out its duties and responsibilities with greater effectiveness and efficiency. And the starting point for any police reform remains the way Indian police station functions as they still remain the cutting edge of the law and order machinery in the country. If Indian police stations continue to function the way they have always been, all other reforms would come to nought. It is against this background that an experiment made in the West Bengal district of Jalpaiguri becomes important.
The law enforcers across the country seem to be unanimous that given the manpower, resources and infrastructure crunch afflicting the police, it is neither advisable nor practicable to entertain all the public complaints at the police station. They feel that all such complaints need to be carefully sifted and sorted before being accepted in the form of an FIR (First Information Report). However, the Jalpaiguri experiment has proved them all wrong.
It was with effect from 1 July 2007 that an experiment was kicked off in Jalpaiguri in which instructions were issued to all police stations to accept any and every FIR without demur. Instructions were also issued, however, to ensure that no simultaneous arrests be made till inquiry and investigation were completed. Contrary to the fear of the huge burden that such an approach might impose on the system, the entire system has responded very well with surprisingly positive results. The police is no longer shunned or avoided out here, nor are the rank and file complaining of increased workload. Popular alienation or fear of police has come down, leading to increased public confidence in them.
Selective lodging of FIRs never reflected the true crime picture of the district which has become possible now. Against an average of 3,000 cases/FIRs lodged at the police station between 2004 and 2006, about 5,300 cases were reported in the first year of reforms, 2007. The projected crime figure for 2008 is likely to be around 14,000, quite staggering compared to the figures of the pre-reform period. Usually, a proportionately inverse relationship has been noticed between the cases lodged in the police stations and the court complaints. With police becoming liberal in accepting FIRs, the necessity of people lodging court complaint has come down resulting in reduction of the same.
While the total crime figures booked by the police under different sections for all the 17 police stations of three million-strong Jalpaiguri between 2002-06 was an average of about 2,700, this figure was a staggering 6,800 in 2007. The projected figure for 2008 is likely to be 14,000. Again, while an average of 550 crimes against women were reported during this period, the figure was more than double for 2007 and is projected to be around 2,000 in 2008. The average figure for robbery, burglary and dacoity together were around 40 during the three years preceding the reforms, but it shot up to 60 in 2007 and is likely to be more than 80 at the end of 2008.
The arrest figures have also been greatly impacted. Earlier, the police was often indiscriminate in its preventive activities and arrests as it had a mandatory quota to fulfil. So, the police would indiscriminately haul up people through non-FIR cases, inter alia, under such sections as 107, 109 and 110 of the CrPC and 290 IPC, but the need to cook the books has come down substantially with police willing to register all crimes being reported in the district.
The overall arrest figures for the district which was more than 5,000 during 2004-06, was down to 4,500 in 2007 and is likely to be less than 5,000 in 2008. Again, while accused surrenders were an average of around 1,300 between 2004-06, it was around 3,500 in 2007 and is projected to be around 4,500 in 2008. While the number of persons convicted during 2004-06 was around 125, it was almost unaffected in 2007 at 121, but is likely to improve substantively at over 200 in 2008 pointing to the improved quality of case disposal. This clearly indicates a positive relationship between a responsive police and the local crime figures.
Notwithstanding the registration of a huge number of cases and the consequent increase in work for the local police, the case disposal has improved drastically. The case disposal was around 3,000 during 2004-06, it was more than 4,000 in 2007 and is likely to be more than 6,000 in 2008. It is amply clear that given a proper orientation, the same manpower can yield better results.
With free registration of cases, the process of converting cognizable cases into non-cognizable cases has almost stopped as all such cases are now registered in the first instance itself. Similarly, such a development has also pre-empted the need for the interference with the police work by the local panchayats, political leaders and touts. One does feel the need to replicate similar experiments elsewhere in the country. However, another set of reforms is required for handling the increased backlog of cases at the level of the District Court due to increased efficiency of the police, but that's something police cannot do anything about.
Note: The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Government of India.