Unless we address the core issues, no amount of modern infrastructure will be able to bring in fundamental changes towards the working methodology of the police
Having gone through media reports about the recent incident at Mukherjee Nagar in North-West Delhi, where some policemen “thrashed” a tempo driver after he allegedly attacked a cop, one is compelled to wonder whether the usual talk of police reforms is yet another oxymoron? Normally, after training, a police officer is supposed to behave with a certain amount of discretion and sensitivity as he may be quite raw and not as experienced and hardened as some of his colleagues.
In the instant case, however, some policemen were reported to have conducted themselves in a very unprofessional manner, drawing adverse comment from all sections of society. This takes us to the quality of training and attitude of police officers who graduate from training schools. It appears that one of the fundamental schisms, which has continued since independence, is whether the police is a service or a force?
The conflict arises from the fact that the society has high expectations and considers the police to be a public service organisation, while the State continues to think of it not only as a service organisation for the society but also as an instrument of its sovereign functions like law and order, public order and internal security. Despite numerous commissions and recommendations, the police organisation has remained as it is. Sometimes it appears strange that despite the police being a State subject and each State having its own set of rules, there is something that binds the police into a homogenous entity as far as the methodology of work and attitude towards the public are concerned.
In this context, the Union Home Ministry’s renewed efforts at giving a push to police reforms must be welcomed. To begin with, a country-wide competition to adjudge the best police station was initiated. Police stations competed with each other on the basis of seven parameters, which included among other things, crime prevention, pro-active policing along with public perception and feedback. Some of these have, perhaps, been included for the first time and give impetus to the policemen to take into account the attitude of the public towards the police and policing in general. Topping the Union Home Ministry’s list was the Kalu police station in Rajasthan’s Bikaner district. The second in rank was Campbell Bay in Nicobar district. Farakka police station in West Bengal’s Murshidabad district ranked third. It is to be hoped that such competitions will generate a lot of enthusiasm and bring in the much-needed fresh air into the police stations besides leading to the much-desired course-correction.
Undoubtedly, some of these parameters are extremely important and may even be fundamental to providing good governance to the public. In today’s media-driven world, public perception is vital for credibility of any organisation. The police in particular — as even a small incident like the one mentioned — can be stigmatised and spoil years of hard-earned reputation. At the same time, we must also give a deeper thought to reforms, as despite orders from the Supreme Court, there appears to be an inherent reluctance in implementing them in a meaningful manner.
While the array of police reforms implemented so far — to modernise the communication networks, mobility, IT applications and weaponry among others — has only touched the metropolitan areas and the more fortunate among the district headquarters, large segments of our population continue to be under-policed with the department unable to provide even some of the basics in certain areas. Visible implementation of such infrastructural reforms, even though in a limited manner, besides giving a modern and contemporary look, have resulted in a quantum jump towards efficiency of the police besides leading to a positive perception among the public of being progressive. But unless we address the core issues, no amount of modern infrastructure will be able to bring in fundamental changes towards the working methodology of the police all over the country.
The police and the public enjoy an ambivalent relationship with each other. Even when the police personnel are very friendly — having a positive attitude and police stations with a modern look — people become apprehensive the moment they hear of the police procedures and the courts. Police being integral to the criminal justice system, almost all its actions have to be ultimately placed before the judicial officers, as required by the code of criminal procedure and the various State police rules.
As the number of cases goes up, not only the work load of investigating officers increases, it also adds to delays and pendency in the courts, resulting in an increase in the overall time spent on each case before its final disposal. Such increasing work load and delays deny justice to the people on the one hand and on the other, it propels the stressed out and overworked police officer towards rudeness and offensive behavior.
In the process, the common man suffers, for justice delayed is justice denied. The Code of Criminal Procedure currently in vogue is basically a document of 1898 vintage. Some amendments have been made from time-to-time but the basic structure remains more or less the same. In fact, most of the aberrations in the working of the police find their origin from this Code.
As such, besides improving and modernising the training and other infrastructural needs as per current and future projections, the real reform will take effect only when such administrative changes are coupled with changes in the requisite police and court procedures. Today, a person is more concerned with the police scriptory work and the court procedures as he may have to make several visits to the police station and later to the courts. Such time-consuming and complicated procedures bring a lot of negativity in the police public relations. Besides, these have almost no bearing on establishment-related reforms of fixity of tenures and the constitution of Security Commissions at the State or national levels. In the current dispensation of procedures, hardly any emphasis has been laid on expediting the delivery of justice to the common man, which in fact should be the top priority.
In order to address all such issues in a comprehensive manner, roughly 20 years ago, the Ministry of Home Affairs had constituted a committee to go into various aspects of the criminal justice system. This committee had submitted a very comprehensive and a meaningful report. The recommendations were not only to expedite the delivery of justice, but also emphasised upon greater involvement of judicial officers at the time of trial to ascertain the truth.
At present we follow the adversarial system, which no doubt gives a very fair trial. In the inquisitorial system, which is followed in most of the European countries including France and Germany, the supervision of the investigation is done more closely by the judicial officers. It had been recommended that in our prevailing social conditions, an adversarial system with certain good features of inquisitorial system could still be adopted. Changes in the basic approach to investigation were also suggested. An important recommendation was to introduce a provision in the Code where any court shall at any stage of inquiry or trial, would have such powers as to issue directions to the investigating officer to make further investigation or to direct the supervisory officer to take appropriate action for more pointed investigation so as to assist the court in search of truth. Some changes in the nature of the burden of proof beyond reasonable doubt were also suggested. For some reason, this very useful report was shelved after the change of government in 2004.
Ultimately for the benefit of the common man, it would be of utmost importance to deal with the criminals effectively and speedily by expeditious delivery of justice. Accordingly, the police reforms have to be two-tiered. One at the level of the organisation and the establishment besides training and second at the procedural level, entailing a comprehensive review of the code of criminal procedure and state police rules. In the current scenario simply increasing the number of investigators or the number of courts may not suffice as the need of the hour is to introduce comprehensive reforms in the criminal justice system.
(The writer is a retired Delhi Police Commissioner and former Uttarakhand Governor)
Writer: KK Paul
Courtesy: The Pioneer