“The police uniform evokes various emotions. There is a fear of oppression and cruelty, as well as a perception of security. This perception shapes into expression from our daily observance. These days, people face a predicament whether to approach the police or not. They are scared whenever they see a policeman approaching them. Instead of feeling secure in their presence, the popular feeling is that of insecurity.”
Fake encounters, custodial deaths, lathi charge, abductions and third-degree torture — everyday episodes of sensational brutality by the policemen has shaken the nation’s trust in its police system. The horrific downturn in UP; alleged thrashing of a Dalit couple in MP and the murder of Jayaraj and Bennix at the hands of the local Tamil Nadu police has provoked a wide-spread national outrage.
Police Misconduct: A norm in India?
Police brutalities can be broadly observed as:
1) Torture and extrajudicial killings
- Police use torture and another mistreatment to elicit confessions to the charges they fabricate.
- While the practice is not the norm in most of India, fake encounter killings occur frequently.
- Between April 2017 and February 2018, India recorded a staggering 1,674 custodial deaths, a rate of five custodial deaths per day, according to statistics placed by the Home Ministry.
- UP topped the list, with 374 deaths reported in this period of under a year.
2) Prejudice and selective persecution
- The Status of Policing in India Report 2019 reveals disturbing trends on police prejudice.
- It indicates a significant bias against Minorities. Similar prejudices existed across certain states against Tribals, Dalits, transgenders and migrants from other states.
3) Professional misconduct
- Police misconduct refers to inappropriate conduct and illegal actions taken by police officers in connection with their official duties.
- Types of misconduct include coerced false confession, intimidation, false arrest, falsification of evidence, spoliation of evidence, witness tampering, racial profiling, unwarranted surveillance, searches, and seizure of property.
- A report by Transparency International, show that in India, Police organization is seen as most corrupt by the people.
- At present, corruption is pervasive among the senior and junior ranks in the form of bribery.
- Police allegedly buy and sell appointments to positions in the areas most lucrative for extorting money from local businesses and embezzling police funds.
“Violence now runs in the veins of Gandhi’s nation. It demands police to lynch those who eat beef and do duty only for festive Bandobast and elections.”
Various Recourse Available to Citizens
Keeping the above circumstances in mind, it is imperative to understand the framework for pursuing grievances against police excesses.
- Judicial remedy: Remedies, including compensation, can be sought before the High Courts and the Supreme Court under the violations of fundamental rights.
- HR sanctions: Relief can also be sought before the National and the State Human Rights Commissions set up under the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, but their recommendations are not binding on the respective governments.
- Criminal cases: Criminal complaints can be filed against the concerned officers for offences under the IPC, 1860, but there is no mechanism for an independent investigation.
- Disciplining: Since the police is a state subject under the Constitution, disciplinary proceedings and punishment for errant police officers such as suspension, removal or deduction of salary are provided under respective state enactments.
Why the Indian Police underperform: A Dangerous State of Disrepair
The police force has always faced its own set of problems that remain hidden and impede its smooth functioning and performance.
1) Inefficient Deployment and Workload
- Policemen in India, on an average, work for a minimum of 12 hours a day, with no weekly off, no leaves, no overtime pay and no social life.
- The police-population ratio, currently 192 policemen per lakh population, is less than what is recommended by UN i.e. 222 policemen per lakh population.
- The deteriorating state of the police is most visible at police stations.
- Decaying, colonial-era police stations and posts across India are stocked with antiquated equipment and lack sufficient police vehicles, phones, computers, and even stationery.
- Many lacked basic equipment needed for investigating crimes, preserving evidence, and keeping minimally adequate records.
3) Organizational discrepancies
- The police structure in India is based on the archaic colonial laws that did not provide the lower ranks, with operational authority or advanced professional training.
4) Lack of proper training
- Police training has not seen any modifications since decades. It is severely underfunded. Training is of poor quality because instructors are poor.
- For lower ranks, pre-induction training of six to nine months are military in style and are dominated merely by physical fitness: “foot drills,” “platoon drill,” and ceremonial parades. That’s it.
5) Political interference
- In a culture of sifarish —politically motivated refusal to register complaints, arbitrary detention, and torture and killings sometimes perpetrated by police at the behest of national and state politicians—have resulted in an unprecedented level of public distrust and fear of the police.
- State and local politicians routinely tell police officers to drop investigations against people with political connections, including known criminals, and to harass or file false charges against political opponents.
6) Psycho-social alienation
- Since the onset of the lockdown, Policemen are the most exposed beings to their severity. These days, their work conditions are physically and mentally taxing, and lower-ranking personnel are grossly frustrated over that.
- The biggest problem they face is that there is a lack of social and family life. The apathy and brutalities these days are somewhat manifestations of these saturating conditions.
“We have no time to think, no time to sleep. I tell my men that a victim will only come to the police station because we can give him justice, so we should not beat him with a stick. But often the men are tired and irritable and grave mistakes take place out of overt frustrations.”
The long waited Reforms
Parliamentary Research Services (PRS) in 2017 put out a report on police reforms in India.
- They articulated six areas where considerable work was still needed—police accountability; the need to separate law and order from the investigation; poor working conditions and an overburdened police force; constabulary related issues; police infrastructure; and public-police relations.
Till now, six committees, including the National Police Commission, have been set up by the government. These committees made recommendations in favour of major police reforms. These include the Gore Committee on Police Training (1971-73), the Ribeiro Committee on Police Reforms (1998), the Padmanabhaiah Committee on Police Reforms (2000), the Group of Ministers on National Security (2000-01), and the Malimath Committee on Reforms of Criminal Justice System (2001-03).
In what is popularly referred to as the Prakash Singh Case of 2006, the Supreme Court ordered that reform must take place. It made seven-point directives to the Center and State governments.
The seven directives are:
1) Limit political control
Constitute a State Security Commission to:
- Ensure that the state government does not exercise unwarranted influence or pressure on the police.
- Lay down broad policy guidelines.
- Evaluate the performance of the state police.
2) Appoint based on merit
Ensure that the Director-General of Police is appointed through a merit–based, transparent process, and secures a minimum tenure of 2 years.
3) Fix minimum tenure
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 with a minimum tenure of 2 years.
4) Separate police functions
Separate the functions of investigation and maintaining law and order.
5) Set up fair and transparent systems
Set up a Police Establishment Board to decide and make recommendations on transfers, postings, promotions and other service-related matters of police officers of and below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police.
6) Establish a Police Complaints Authority in each state
At the state level, there should be a Police Complaints Authority to look into public complaints against police officers of and above the rank of Superintendent of Police in cases of serious misconduct, including custodial death, grievous hurt or rape in police custody. At the district level, the Police Complaints Authority should be set up to inquire into public complaints against the police personnel of and up to the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police in cases of serious misconduct.
7) Set up a selection commission
A National Security Commission needs to be set up at the union level to prepare a panel for selection and placement of chiefs of the Central Police Organizations with a minimum tenure of 2 years.
“It has become obvious that the police cannot be neutral. Either you comply with every order from the political masters, or you have some strong backing of a leader who protects you. That is how policing is being done in our country .”
Reforms: Largely on Papers
- The directions of the Supreme Court, as usual, have fallen on deaf ears.
- The Justice Thomas Committee appointed by the Supreme Court for monitoring compliance with the Prakash Singh judgement expressed dismay in its 2010 report over the total indifference exhibited by the states.
- In 2013, the Justice Verma Committee constituted after the Nirbhaya gangrape also noted such non-compliance in its report and urged all states to fully comply with the top court’s directives to tackle systemic problems in policing.
Why these reforms are yet unimplemented?
- What has perhaps stalled the implementation of these reforms is the lack of political will, which in turn could be linked to the growing criminalization of politics.
- When lawmakers increasingly feature serious criminal charges in their resume, they have very little incentive to professionalize the police force.
- Growing criminality of politics may be hindering both police performance and the impetus for police reform.
“Whatever the hiccups are, the clear bottom line is that the police are entrusted with the undeniable duty of protection. They need to inspire confidence amongst the citizen toward them, as nobody else can do better on their behalf.”
Efforts to end abuses will not succeed unless made part of a comprehensive overhaul. The following recommendations to both improve the functioning of the police and curtail abuses are drawn from multiple committees:
1) Overhaul police structures and improve working conditions
- Improve working conditions: Minimum standards for housing and work hours should be developed, for instance, a requirement that station house officers announce and adhere to a monthly work schedule with maximum hours of work and provide for the mandatory leave.
- Improve training and equipment: A scarcity of trained personnel can contribute to the likelihood of abusive behaviour, such as the “short-cuts” of refusing to register crime complaints to reduce caseloads and building cases on coerced confessions rather than a collection of evidence. The investigation curriculum at police academies must be bolstered.
- Training on human rights and professional conduct: Frustrated officers with nothing to lose are more likely to engage in abusive behaviour. To change this environment, HR training must be provided for better police behaviour.
2) Enforce the law
- Investigating police abuse and misconduct: The complaints against police officers and their investigation should be done by independent bodies which have no political as well as police interference only the crime against innocent citizens would reduce.
- Preventing Torture: Strong domestic laws are critical to signalling police that torture is never a permissible means to extract confessions or other information from criminal suspects.
- Repeal laws that encourage impunity: Section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code continues to effectively shield many abusive police officials from prosecution for actions taken on “official duty”. That needs to be amended.
3) Ensure accountability and discipline
- Establish an independent internal affairs or “professional responsibility” unit at the state level to promptly and impartially investigated.
- Internal investigations should be triggered by allegations made to external government agencies such as the NHRC or other relevant agencies.
4) Legislative intervention
To implement the police reforms in letter and spirit, the Indian Parliament must-
- Amend or replace the Police Act of 1861 with legislation conforming to the requirements of the Supreme Court in Prakash Singh judgement.
- Amend the CrPC about FIR registration. To ensure prompt police aid to crime victims, amend Section 154 to explicitly state that a police station must register an FIR regardless of jurisdiction. Adopt the 2005 Police Act Drafting Committee’s recommendation to make failure to register an FIR a criminal offence.
- Ratify the Convention against Torture (UNCAT) and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
- Specifically, define Torture and enforced disappearances as criminal offences in the IPC.
- Amend the Evidence Act to make inadmissible any evidence obtained based on a police interrogation that involved the use of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or other illegal coercion.
- Amend Section 36 of the Protection of Human Rights (Amendment) Act, 2006 to permit the NHRC/SHRC to inquire into violations pending before other commissions.
- Empower the NHRC/SHRC (the so-called toothless tigers) to issue binding orders, rather than non-binding recommendations to the state governments and police.
The ‘police’ and ‘public order’ being in the State List of Seventh Schedule, police reforms are large to be undertaken by state governments.
With movements like Black lives matter, one can easily conclude that police brutality is a global phenomenon. The mentality of being brute with citizens needs to go.
Training in modern concepts of justice and human rights is the need of the hour. The sensitization programmes for the field officers need to be conducted regularly. Zero tolerance for HR violations must be the mission.
There has to be promptness of action and decency of behaviour. It is time to transforms it from ‘Ruler’s Police’ to ‘People’s Police.’