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Police reforms: A long overdue exercise

Police reforms: A long overdue exercise
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Police reforms: A long overdue exercise

Highlights

The need for police reforms in India is long recognised

The need for police reforms in India is long recognised. There has been almost three decades of discussion by government created committees and commissions. Way back in 1979, the National Police Commission (NPC) was set up to report on policing and give recommendations for reform. The Commission produced eight reports, dozens of topic specific recommendations and also a Model Police Act.

None of the major recommendations were adopted by any government. Delay in reforming the police has only led to increased illegal arrests, encounters, favouritism, politicisation and even anarchy in some areas as has been witnessed in several cases. Refusal of the police to file cases against noted criminals, politically influential persons and the hand-in-glove attitude in investigations has eroded people's confidence in the system itself resulting in huge surge in court cases leading to a huge pendency and delayed deliverance of justice.

The infamous Vikas Dubey encounter in UP and the politicisation of the police forces evident as in Kangana Ranaut vs Maharashtra Government where it has become Bihar vs Maharashtra and even Centre vs the State Government is another classic example of the rot that has set in. This persuaded two former Directors General of Police (DGPs) in 1996 to file a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court asking the Court to direct governments to implement the NPC recommendations. In the course of the 10-year long case, in 1998 the Court set up the Ribeiro Committee which handed in its reports in 1999.

This was followed by the Padmanabhaiah Committee report in 2000 and eventually the Police Act Drafting Committee (PADC or Soli Sorabjee Committee) that drafted a new model police bill to replace the colonial 1861 Police Act. Meanwhile very little was ever done on the ground to improve policing or implement recommendations put forth by any of these committees or commissions. It was only a decade later in 2006 that the Court delivered its verdict. In what is popularly referred to as the Prakash Singh case the Supreme Court ordered that reform must take place.

The States and union territories were directed to comply with seven binding directives that would kick start reform. These directives pulled together the various strands of improvement generated since 1979. The Court required immediate implementation of its orders either through executive orders or new police legislation. Initially, the Court itself monitored compliance of all States and Union Territories. However, in 2008 it set up a three-member Monitoring Committee with a two- year mandate to examine compliance.

The seven directives provide practical mechanisms to kick-start reform. The scheme puts in place mechanisms to better ensure that: the police have functional responsibility while remaining under the supervision of the political executive within its legitimate bounds. As the issue again has reached the Supreme Court, even the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative urged the Apex Court to continuously monitor implementation of the reforms by the states.

Unfortunately, police reforms do not suit any government in this country. Parliamentary Research Services (PRS), a leading NGO in India, put out an excellent report in 2017 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 investigation; poor working conditions and an overburdened police force; constabulary related issues; police infrastructure; and public-police relations. It will be insanity to refuse reforms.

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