From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Not much
Mains level : Paper 2- Illegalities by the police
Custodial deaths in Tamil Nadu and death of a criminal in UP has brought to the fore the issue of illegalities carried out by the police. This article discusses the ways in which people face such illegalities and need for the reforms.
Issue of illegalities by police
- It is common practice in police stations to ignore the statute, laid down processes and Supreme Court guidelines.
- So frequent is the brazen disobedience to the law that a lot of illegality seems to have morphed into accepted practice.
Following are the ways in which police illegalities are carried out
1) Custodial deaths
- The National Crime Records Bureau records 853 custodial deaths between 2010 to 2018.
- At 1,636, the National Human Rights Commission puts the death figure much higher.
- For this, just 3 policemen have been convicted.
2) Issues of encounters
- The Supreme Court is clear that in each encounter case, an FIR must be registered and the matter probed independently.
- If false, an “encounter” is premeditated murder.
- Encounter threaten the basis of the rule of law.
3) Avoiding registering complaint
- Avoiding registration of complaint is the most common problem faced by the people.
- Even when the complaint is registered its magnitude is often diluted.
- It is difficult for women, in particular, to get crimes registered.
- So, in 2013, the law itself had to be changed.
- Now a policeman who refuses to register a complaint of a sexual assault faces a two-year sentence.
- The crime rate in India in 2018, it stood at 383.5 per 1,00,000 population.
- By contrast, the crime rate in the US was over 2,500 per 1,00,000 .
- This difference in crime rate highlights the reluctance by the police to registering crime.
- This low crime rate on paper makes a fine excuse for governments to leave vacancies unfilled, go short on equipment and upgrades.
- At 158, India’s police to population ratio which is police staff per 1,00,000 citizens, is one of the worst in the world.
4) Detention without cause
- People with prior records form a pool of easy pickings, as do the powerless.
- Often it is because the local public wants a quick arrest and the police want a scapegoat.
5) Discrimination in arrest and investigation
- In the Tuticorin custodial murder, it took six days, the Madras High Court’s dogged intervention and a national hue and cry before six policemen could be arrested.
- While police act swiftly in some cases, it goes soft against in other cases.
Mechanisms and Checks and balances
- There are many checks and balances from taluka to the national level to avoid police transgressions.
- Internally, there are disciplinary mechanisms.
- Outside, there are the courts.
- Every state has human rights commissions, special interest bodies like the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, women, and minorities commissions, and some have the police complaints authorities.
- The Supreme Court’s clear directions coupled with the criminal code provide ample safeguards against excess.
Why these checks and balances fail
- In real life, internal mechanisms are overindulgent of illegal behaviour, obscure and dilatory.
- The first responder lower courts are constrained by capacity and circumstance.
- Very few of the over one hundred guardian bodies dotted around the country work effectively
Issues with the Guardian bodies
- Many bodies are without any functions and powers.
- Others are deliberately left understaffed and under-resourced.
- The Andhra Pradesh SHRC has no chairperson nor members.
- Gujarat, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Kerala and Tamil Nadu SHRCs function with acting chairs.
- The few institutions that have the power and resources restrain their own functioning through terminal timidity.
Consider the question “Issue of the illegalities by the police raises the question of guarding the guardians. Examine the ways in which police illegalities are manifested and suggest ways to deal with the issue.”
The number and regularity of heinous crimes by the police calls out for root and branch repair of the police and the many guardian agencies tasked with keeping them lawful.