Times Face-off: Time to loosen political grip on the police? | India News
By: Julio Ribeiro
When the police and politicians scratch your back, the citizens suffer
No country that professes to be a liberal democracy tolerates political interference in the internal management of its police machinery. The Constitution and the law are the guiding beacons. Police officers at all levels have sworn to uphold the Constitution and laws of the land. If they falter in that duty, they are guilty and should be sent to the bank. Period.
The question we must therefore debate is not whether the police should be isolated from political control, but how it will be achieved. Today no political party in power in the Center or in the states will renounce its control over the police, since the uniformed force is the most visible symbol of the power of the state. But control also sanctions the authority to accumulate injustices on selected individuals or segments of the population that have lost the favor of the rulers.
If police leaders had operational independence, as ordered by the National Police Commission and the Supreme Court, the ignominy of the Sikh pogrom in Delhi in 1984 and the carnage in Gujarat in 2002 would not have figured in our history.
Would a DGP free of political control allow a cabinet minister to sit in his control room to direct operations? Would a police commissioner allow a cabinet minister to tell police officers on the ground who they should arrest and who they should allow to go on a slaughter? Would the police superintendents who controlled the riots in their jurisdictions be summarily changed to cease to carry out their duties in accordance with the law?
The superintendency of the police established in the Police Law does not mean that the political executive can override the operational directives of professional police chiefs. It means that the political executive, elected by the people, has to keep his eyes and ears open 24/7 to ensure that police officers never abuse their powers to annoy citizens. That is why the superintendency of the police has placed itself directly in the hands of the political executive to protect the population from injustices attributable to recalcitrant police officers.
In my early years at IPS, elected representatives were very careful with their superintendent power. They would bring all transgressions to the attention of the SP in the districts or their superior supervisors in the ranks or in the state capital. The arrangement worked to the benefit of all interested parties.
Sadly, in the intervening years, ambitious IPS operatives in search of fame or pelf have befriended unscrupulous politicians and devised a flawed system in which they scratch each other’s back to the detriment of ordinary citizens. The power of appointments and transfers has passed directly into the hands of politicians, who misuse this power to satisfy their own desire for power and that of their party or those of their party.
Appointments and transfers of inspectors and police within a district were always the responsibility of the SP for that district. Transfers within the rank of superior subordinates was a task entrusted to the rank DIG. The government ordered the transfers of IPS officials to the interior department with the written advice of the Inspector General (now DGP). The force commander knows his officers and is in the best position to place them in the appropriate places.
If his advice is not respected and senior officer transfers are ordered on the basis of lobbying or patronage, as is happening now, then discipline and performance are put to the test and a Sachin Vaze becomes larger than life and receives orders directly from the police commissioner. or even the Minister of the Interior. Breaking the chains of command means breaking the mechanisms of control. There is total confusion. In a regulated organization, it is bound to spell disaster.
Imagine what would happen if our defense minister started appointing battalion commanders in the army. We would lose all wars. But the ministers of the interior of the states do not seem to care, even when all the battles in the streets of our cities are lost every day, because they have appropriated for themselves the professional duty of appointing the officers of the police station not about the basis of integrity and competence, but on the basis of approaches made, or worse, the money transferred.
Entrusting operational independence to police leaders does not imply carte blanche to do what they want. A police force must be held accountable, but only before the law and the law. The job of elected politicians is to monitor the performance and conduct of each and every member of the force and hold their boss to account.
So much depends on the correct choices at the top of the ladder. The choice must take into account competence and, more importantly, integrity. If the integrity test fails, abandon that person because skill without integrity is destructive.
(The writer was the Mumbai Police Commissioner and DGP Gujarat & Punjab)
Against: Prithviraj Chavan
Police are accountable to the public through politicians, but the lines of the law must be clear
The democratic space is shrinking rapidly in India. Last month, the US-based Freedom House demoted India to a “partially free democracy.” The V-Dem Institute in Sweden called India an “electoral autocracy.” Both reports highlighted the excessive use of police machinery by governments to suppress dissent. The media is full of stories about how “law guards” are involved in heinous crimes, be it the Sachin Vaze case in Maharashtra, the Hathras rape case, or the torture and murder of a father and son. in Tamil Nadu. These cases invariably lead to the conclusion that there is excessive political control of the police forces.
It should be noted from the beginning that the fundamental principle of our Republic is the rendering of accounts of all the organs of the State before the people through their elected legislators. But this principle is sometimes taken to the extreme when elected politicians interfere with the daily work of the police force, including transfers and positions, investigations, and even the duties of law and order. The police force must only respond to the rule of law, which is codified in various laws.
The main law is the Police Act of 1861, promulgated by the British during the colonial era, shortly after the uprising of 1857, intended to suppress any insurgency of the subject people. That we continue to function under the 1861 enactment speaks volumes about the urgent need to rewrite more adequate police legislation. Even the UK police today operate under their Police Act 1996 and the Police Reform Act 2002.
By the very nature of the work, the police force has been conferred extraordinary coercive powers. Therefore, it is essential that the exercise of this power is subject to the closest and most effective public scrutiny possible. At the same time, there has to be reasonable political scrutiny to ensure accountability to the people.
Operational independence is essential to ensure an efficient and non-partisan police force. Officers should be free to use their professional judgment in individual cases without political guidance. This requires a clear demarcation between issues of day-to-day policing and issues of policy. Unfortunately, the lack of a specific demarcation of duties and responsibilities encourages political interference.
To achieve an independent, responsible and efficient criminal investigation that is not affected by political and populist pressures, structural reform of the police is essential. Not that this has not been attempted, there have been multiple commissions, investigations and reports. The landmark Supreme Court ruling Prakash Singh vs. Union of India in 2006 attempted police reforms under seven headings. Unfortunately, even after 14 years, neither the Union government nor any of the state governments have accepted these suggestions.
The lack of demarcation in the duties and responsibilities of various agents generates political interference. Governments attempt to impose total control over the police, from recruitment to posts, transfers and promotions, in total violation of the Police Law and its manuals. The lack of clarity in various police acts and the multiplicity of agencies further complicates the matter.
CBI is a classic example, often caught in political crossfire. CBI is governed by the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act which makes it a special wing of the Delhi Police and therefore its original jurisdiction is limited to Delhi. Recently, at least seven states governed by non-BJP governments have withdrawn general consent to the IWC.
In this context, police reforms in the states and the government of the Union are essential to guarantee a fair and efficient administration of justice. These reforms are long overdue:
1. Streamlining of various police acts.
2. Strict demarcation of authority between the political chief (the Minister of the Interior), the DG Police and the heads of unit.
3. Strengthening of the Police Establishment Board, ensuring the permanent permanence of the heads of unit.
4. Clear demarcation between agencies: CBI, NIA, multiple agencies dealing with economic crimes such as CBA, ED, Income Tax, Income Intelligence, etc.
5. The Police Act of 1861 requires a single police force. There is a need to develop a consensus on the separation of functions, such as community policing, public order, crime detection, prosecution, road and traffic police, security, etc., as practiced in many countries.
Police reforms are necessary to maintain public order while preserving the superintendence of the people by constitutional mandate. In the name of politicizing the police, any attempt to reduce public oversight would be like throwing the baby in the bathtub.
As stated by the Supreme Court in the Prakash Singh case: “The commitment, dedication and responsibility of the police has to be solely with the rule of law. Supervision and control must be such as to ensure that the police serve people without regard at all to the status and position of any person while investigating a crime or taking preventive measures. ”
(The writer is a former Union Minister and Chief Minister of Maharashtra)