THE LAWFILE

INDIA: Shadow of indignity a shade!

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For a government, when its law enforcement agencies are accused of housing criminals in uniform, it is an embarrassment, to the say the least. When the accusation, that the state police have become a roost for criminals, is made by a superior court, it must carry certain credence. That the court makes such worrying observation, repeatedly over the years, means that something is fundamentally wrong in the country. Criminals recruited into the state police and entrusted to maintain law and order suggests that the concern expressed by the court is not a simple issue of maintaining discipline within the police force. It illuminates the substandard policing policy of the government. The police with tainted reputation assigned the duty to be the protector of the life and property of the citizens is just not an anomaly, but an insult upon the very fundamentals of democracy.

The state in question is Kerala, one of the southernmost states in India, praised for its development scenario including of its high living standards in comparison to the most of India. The Kerala High Court while considering a petition that challenged the recent recruitment into the state police had the occasion to consider the antecedents of the candidates. 38 candidates from six battalions were found to be unfit to be appointed as law enforcement officers due to their criminal antecedents by the court. The court while expressing concern over this finding did not however stop there. The court ordered the state’s Director General of Police (DGP) to file a detailed report in court concerning police officers, including those from the elite Indian Police Service (IPS) currently posted in the state, against whom there is a criminal case. The court has also directed the DGP to enquire and prepare a report of those officers who have left the state on deputation in other jobs.

Policing in India is a state subject, which means every state (provincial) government has more or less absolute control over its police. Through officers from the IPS, do serve in the state, for all practical purposes, like promotion, transfer and disciplinary actions, are dealt by the respective state governments and not often by the central government. Due to this decentralised scenario concerning local policing, attempts to improve the standards, from recruitment to retirement, have been half-hearted and largely remained ineffective in India. The fact that the central government often played to the tune of the state governments or the state governments completely ignoring efforts taken in New Delhi to improve the state of policing, both for sheer political gains, have resulted in a situation where policing in India is now completely subjugated to the whims of the ruling élite that hold fort in their respective state capitals.

There has been more than one attempt to improve the state of policing in the country. The constitution of a Working Group on Police by the Administrative Reforms Commission in 1966; the Gore Committee on Police Training in 1971; the Ribeiro Committee on Police Reforms in 1998; the Padmanabhaiah Committee on Police Reforms in 2000 are to name some important examples. This is in addition to the recommendations made by the short-lived National Police Commission, the National Human Rights Commission and to the critiques and directives issued over a period of several years, repeatedly, by none other than the Supreme Court of India, the latest of which is in 2006 in the form of directives to the state governments issued in the Prakash Singh case.

Not surprisingly the state governments preferred a review petition against the judgment, arguing in essence, that the Court had no business to direct the governments, that they must immediately stop political interference in policing, admittedly, with a certain extent of malice to retain the control of the dominant political parties upon the police. The Court dismissed the petition, summarily.

State governments have not only ignored most of the directives in the Prakash Singh case, but wherever the recommendations were partially complied, it is apparent that the compliance is with complete contempt to the Court’s directives. At least four states have totally ignored the Supreme Court’s order, against which after four years since the original order, the Court has issued notices to the state governments calling for explanation on non-compliance, in November 2010.

In essence, one cannot blindly say that there has been no attempt to improve from the unacceptable status quo concerning the affairs of a fallen policing system; trying to rescue it from the abyss into which it is fast deteriorating. Yet one could argue that the efforts have been thus far futile and is unlikely to fruition given the passage of 45 years of non-improvement but general deterioration, and often a subject, unfortunately of not many persons’ interest. In that the state of policing in India is only marginally better than that of the neighbouring countries. Like in the neighbourhood, the mainstream Indian media also have ignored this important subject, so have a large section of the country’s human rights groups.

In this context one could ask whether police reforms mean anything beyond the expensive exercise of forming committees in India? Some of the reports of these committees have never been made public, for instance the report of the Padmanabhaiah Committee on Police Reforms, submitted to the government in October 2000.

Policing in India today is the country’s national shame, an enterprise having in it every possible vicious elements as shareholders, ranging from crime syndicates to unholy political nexus and widespread corruption, collectively holding a controlling share in the business. It is left to the court and a few relentless souls approaching the courts that would cause a stir about policing once every now and then. On each such occasion, and many more of them to come, the courts would express shock and the governments called upon to explain. No sensible action would follow. The governments and those who control them would continue basking in the shadow of shame, considering it a comfortable shade. What is alarming however is the banality of it.

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