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#2514, 10 March 2008
Debating the Idea of a Federal Police Agency
Saumitra Mohan
Additional District Magistrate, Office of the District Magistrate, Hooghly
e-mail: saumitra_mohan@hotmail.com

The perceived failure of the Indian police machinery to deal satisfactorily with cases pertaining to law and order has often led to demands for a CBI inquiry in these cases, although they lie in the domain of the states, which  points to the lack of popular confidence in local police systems. This has dented the morale of the provincial police, but also resulted in the CBI being over burdened, and unable to do justice to their original charter.

There is a constant blame game between the Centre and the state governments as seen after the recent serial bomb blasts in Uttar Pradesh, when the Centre shirked its responsibility by saying that law and order was a state subject and that the state government needed to be more vigilant. The latter, however, blamed the Centre for not having provided it with adequate intelligence inputs in this regard.

It is in this situation that a proposal has been mooted for a Federal Police Agency (FPA) to deal with such issues lying in the states’ domain which go beyond normal law and order issues or which require more specialised attention and investigation. The Central Administrative Reforms Committee headed by Veerappa Moily has also recommended such an independent Crime Investigation Agency with its performance being monitored by a high-powered collegium comprising the Chief Minister, Speaker of the Assembly, Chief Justice of the High Court and Leader of the Opposition. The Committee, inter alia, has suggested a State Police Performance and Accountability Commission with the Chief Minister at its head, but with members from civil society to review and evaluate police performance. The Citizens’ Committee has also recommended specific measures for proper supervision of the police force.

The idea of a Federal Police Agency has been around for a long time but there are many issues which need to be discussed and sorted out before setting it up. It should first, be ensured that the jurisdictions of the state police and agencies like the CBI and FPA are clearly demarcated to avoid duplication or overlapping of functions and duties to the extent possible. Inquiries and investigations entrusted to these agencies should also become more systematic than reactive entrustments so to pre-empt any negative reflection on the performance of the local police.

It has been noticed in the recent past that the state governments or High Courts have entrusted enquiries in high-profile cases to the central agency only after there has been a popular outcry demanding the same as was seen in the Nandigram and Rizwanur Rahman  cases in West Bengal, which has a dampening impact on police morale.

While creating this central agency, it should not be ignored or forgotten that there is no substitute for an efficient and effective police force, as this remains the primary level where the State-citizen interface takes place. Hence, the provincial police needs to be further improved, rather than marginalized, by whittling down its authority or overshadowing it by the creation of parallel authorities.

Ergo, increased attention should be paid to improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the state police and restoring popular confidence in them. The state police needs to be made more professional and effective, and to ensure this, the police must be allowed to function more independently and autonomously.

The Dharmavira Commission recommended complete police autonomy in the 1970s, but to date no serious thought has been given to this recommendation for the simple reason that the idea does not suit the interests of the political class. The cosmetic changes effected in police organizations consequent to the recent Supreme Court judgements have not made any substantive and qualitative difference to their service delivery. The proposal of the FPA also points to the dilettantism which informs police reforms.

It remains a fact that since law and order is a state subject, frequent calls on the CBI also results in erosion of the authority of the states and, thereby, of the Indian federal structure. The founding fathers never meant India to be a true federation as is obvious from the Constitutional reference to it as a ‘Union of States,’ but centralization of powers beyond a point is not advisable notwithstanding the centralising tendencies seen in federal countries across the world.

Therefore, even as the FPA is being set up, the police force must be made more professional. It must also be better trained and motivated to deal with the demands and challenges of policing in an anomic society.

Note: The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Government of India.

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