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#2145, 8 November 2006
Reforming the Police and Policing
Saumitra Mohan
Additional District Magistrate, Hooghly (West Bengal)

While we have felt the need for and independent and sensitive police force for better enforcement of the law of the land and protection of the common citizens' rights, this has remained pious thoughts, nostrums from the rostrums. Many police reform commissions and committees later, police reforms have finally gained the attention of our judiciary and government.

Although we became independent almost sixty years ago, our police and policing is still governed by the colonial Indian Police Act of 1861. Despite incremental changes introduced in this Act from time to time, they have remained a patch-work exercise; our police organization definitely deserves a closer scrutiny in view of the multiple threats posed to our internal security. Ironically, the court's order came a fortnight after the Police Act Drafting Committee headed by Soli Sorabjee published for debate the draft a new law to replace the antiquated Indian Police Act of 1861. Inter alia, it has provisions to check pressure on subordinate officers from their superiors and other quarters.

Now, if the Supreme Court has its way, the police would undergo a meaningful makeover by early January next year. While hearing a public interest litigation, the three-judge bench headed by the Chief Justice of India has issued instructions to the concerned authorities to take necessary action in line with detailed directives given by the court, which recommends sweeping reforms, ranging from restructuring of the force to its modernization and other qualitative changes.

According to its recommendations, all states must constitute a State Security Commission (SSC), a Police Establishment Board and a Police Complaints Authority. States are expected to ensure that all officers, ranging from the rank of SP to DGP hold office, wherever they are posted, for at least two years. The UPSC would recommend a panel of three nominees for the DGP in each state from which one will be selected by the SSC. Similarly, there will be a National Security Commission to select the heads of the BSF, CISF, CRPF and the ITBP.

The Bench has also ordered the setting up of a Commission to decide on selections and appointments to insulate the police force from interference in matters like selection, posting and transfer of the officers. Its two other striking recommendations are the creation of a State Security Commission to supervise the entire police force and a complaints authority to probe complaints of misconduct against police officials. These directives should streamline police functioning in an effective and non-partisan manner.

The Home Ministry is believed to be keen on the creation of a federal agency that can investigate cases that have inter-state and international ramifications. Cases with cross-border implications like narcotics, trafficking of women and smuggling of arms would be handled by a Central Intelligence and Investigating Agency. The Central Government could ask it to investigate cases without the consent of the states, which has far-reaching consequences for the federal structure of the Indian State, but is in keeping with the global centralizing tendencies seen in all other federal states.

Another special committee, constituted in December 2004, has made 49 recommendations taken from the several reports of different police commissions to bring about radical changes in the police and policing. It has confined itself to drawing up recommendations that are crucial for improvement in police functioning, the implementation of which would make an immediate impact on the reform process. Among the short listed recommendations are those on which the Supreme Court has issued directives. The other recommendations include the creation of a Federal Police for internal security, modernization of police forces, improvement in forensic science and infrastructure, tackling organized crime, tackling economic offences, amending the Identification of Prisoners Act, and measures to improve accountability and efficiency at all levels of the police hierarchy.

Although this judicial activism has raised hackles and ruffled feathers, the impetus for police reforms has been started. Implementation may take time due to fierce opposition from affected quarters, but a beginning has been made for transforming our police force into a more people-friendly and modern force. With the Prime Minister and Home Minister committed to implementing these reforms, one can be optimistic that that, this time around, police reforms will receive proper attention. One should therefore be more positive and hopeful because this time judicial activism is matched by the government's anxiety to reform the police organization.

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