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What Ails The Indian Police?

Shashi Kant
Updated: May 2, 2022 18:45
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That is a rather difficult and tricky question. We all know what ails the Indian Police but none of us knows how to correct it.

Police, traditionally and irrespective of the type of government it works under, has been, is and shall always remain the strong arm of State governance.

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Theoretically, legally and technically prime duty of the police force has been and is the enforcement of whatever laws, codes, edicts etc that the state promulgates.

To give a brief background, some sort of law enforcement systems did exist in various cultures, kingdoms and empires of ancient India.

As per historians and anthropologists, the earliest system of policing in India was ‘kin policing’ where individuals close to the chief of the clan were entrusted with the task of enforcing the dictates of the clan or tribe.

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Evidence indicates the existence of some sort of policing system even during Vedic, Harappan and subsequent periods of various empires though there is no evidence of any written or well-defined laws. An amalgamation of dharma, polity and dictates of the king were the law.

In pre-colonial India, under Mughals and other native states as well, there was no formal police system. It was more or less based on customs, royal edicts or religious testaments.

Lord Cornwallis is credited with establishing a semblance of organized policing as one of the three ‘pillars’ of British colonial rule, replacing ‘policing by Zamindars’, who primarily purposely used it to extort what they called taxes, besides intimidation of their subjects and imposition of their coercive will.

Cornwallis envisaged and created what he called ‘three pillars of British colonial rule’ in India, namely a Civil Service, Army and Police. Higher posts were filled by Europeans and the lower ones, particularly constabulary, were open to ‘natives’. Gradually by 1893 most officials in the Superior Police Services started to be appointed on the basis of an examination for the Indian Civil Services.

The first war for Indian independence in 1857, paved the way for the promulgation of two important acts, namely the Government of India Act of 1858, and the Police Act of 1861. As far as the police administration in higher echelons is concerned, the Indian imperial police was also established. By the 1930s and beyond, police acquired almost brutal powers. Broadly speaking, the Police Act of 1861 still remains the driving, guiding and regulating act for the Indian police. It still exhibits the ‘spirit of the colonial police’.

After attaining independence, the task of laying guidelines for the future administrative set up fell on Sardar Patel, the first home minister of the nation, one who unified India. His vision both for the Police and Administrative services was clear. Both were to be dedicated in service to the nation. His advice to IAS officers was that they should work for ‘Surajya’ which is good governance and to alienate themselves from the British Indian principle of remaining aloof from the ‘natives’. It was to be their “bounden duty to treat common Indians as their own.

His quote in respect of the Police was, “it is the responsibility of the police to maintain the prestige of government and to protect the honour of citizens. It is not good enough if you only detect crime and bring offenders to book.” He further added that “Police must also try to win the affection of the people”. This was the grand vision of the great ‘Sardar’ of the Indian nation.

To what extent the ‘All India Services’ succeeded in keeping in line with the vision of that great man, is anyone’s guess.

Unfortunately, none of them could shake off their colonial legacy. The IAS still more or less generally maintains its ‘touch me not mentality’. Indian police also more or less remain in the same colonial mode, instead of trying to come true to the vision of Sardar Patel.

This has led it to become a service often disliked, detested and even hated by people. It still carries its brutal legacy. It has not been able to keep pace with the needs and requirements of the time.

Ever since independence, numerous Commissions have been formed in the country giving various blueprints for police reforms. There have been several judgments about what needs to be done to reform the police ethos, culture and mentality. Sadly all such blueprints have remained on paper only.

In the Constitutional scheme of division of powers between the Centre and States, the police remains a state subject. State police forces consist of IPS officers, recruited by the Central Government through UPSC and assigned to various states. They form the upper crust of the state police force. Then comes the next layer of officials recruited in various ranks, both supervisory in the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police as also subordinate ranks. These directly recruited IPS officers are allocated to various states. It ensures that each state gets some of its own domiciled officials and some belonging to other states. This is done to ensure that the All India Nature of the service remains intact.

However such IPS officers coming from other states often face a bias against them. Several local politicians sitting in the government carry a mindset that such officials are not likely to easily succumb to their pressures. They are, as such, often not given important positions. Very often I have seen that such IPS officers generally stand by their idealism but some of them soon give up and start running around political bosses, assuring them that they are ‘ready to be used’ and carry on the orders, right or wrong, of the political bosses. And this circle goes on.

Ironically police structure in states is like a pyramid, broad-based at the bottom but then tapering upwards. Only one person can sit at the top, the Director General of Police of the state concerned.

Unlike IAS, there are no parallel positions in higher echelons of the state police. IAS officers have numerous cadre and ex-cadre posts including several as heads of government corporations and other such bodies. There is always a scramble to capture the very top position. I remember during our training in the National Police Academy, once a visiting DGP rank officer chose to interact with us probationers. During the interaction, one of my batch mates asked him a rather embarrassing question and it was, “Sir, why do most IPS officers lose a couple of vertebras with each promotion and by the time they reach the scorching proximity of top posts, they start crawling at the feet of political masters like snails?” Visiting faculty had no answer and he just ‘unheard’ the question.

This craving for senior ‘lucrative’ posts gives rise to two things; ‘in service rivalry and secondly wilful readiness of most officers to carry out the dictates, write or wrong, of their political masters’, and mind it, normally it is ‘all wrong things’. This is where one of the vicious circles commences. Senior officers don’t act by themselves. They order their subordinate officers. Such subordinate officials ask their juniors and it goes on.

You will not find such a vicious self-fulfilling psyche amongst most IAS officers. There are several equally ‘wished for’ posts and almost everyone is happy because of the consequent ‘bonhomie’.

Now briefly coming to other reasons; it may be mentioned that police remain the only strong arm of the state administration. It ruffles up, rightly or wrongly, with groups of people. There are at least two rival groups in any given situation. Both claim to be correct and stick to their given agenda. The aggrieved party always cries foul, again rightly or wrongly, at the very top of its voice. Allegations of highhandedness and corruption are always levelled disheartening even to the most honest of the police officials.

In contrast, in the case of most other services, one wants to get one’s work done, right way or wrong way, work done and both parties are happy and praising and blessing each other. Matter ends. No image is tarnished.

In short, other reasons include police-politician nexus at almost all levels; low pay scales, absence of adequate housing and schooling facilities for their kids, which leads to corruption and even police-criminal nexus besides leading to tense matrimonial and family issues; extra-long duty hours and understaffing, lack of promotional avenues; lower educational standards for entry into police force; absence of in-service courses, particularly those which concern behavioural sciences and use of technical gadgets for scientific police investigation; inadequate resources for the police; the total absence of empathetic attitude towards policemen from the society, officialdom and politicians. This leads to a total disconnect, inherent and compulsive friction between police and society. It is this mutual disconnect, mutual bias as also pressure from the governments of the day and higher police echelons for ‘effective’ control on law and order, which often leads to a brutal and unreasonable police response.

Now, at last, comes the billion-dollar question as to how to make do with this situation? As already stated we all know that there have been several ‘Police Reform Commissions’ besides innumerable Court Judgments as also views and write-ups from eminent people. Unfortunately, none of them has succeeded in bringing about the desired improvement in police behaviour, in policing as well as in the social responses in any given situation.

The root cause, therefore, is the fact that the police is a force subservient to the political establishments, to State Governments, in the case of State Police Forces and to the Central Government in the case of Central Forces. To a great extent, and in most states, police forces have been politicised, to the extent that in certain states officials of the rank of Inspectors and Sub-Inspectors decide who their supervisory officers are going to be and several such supervisory officers serve as subject to the ‘pleasure’ of their subordinates. The reason is more than obvious. Such ‘subordinate’ officials work as the henchmen of certain local politicians. This is the reason that directly recruited IPS officers are not in much demand in several states where they prefer their own state cadre officers for important postings/assignments.

While hoping for minor improvements, we have to live with this necessary evil.

Shashi Kant is a former Director General of Police, Punjab.

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