How AAP could have worked the cops

India on 26 February 2014
Location : New Delhi | Source : Asian Age. Image Source: Flickr User Premshree Pillai

The chief minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, resigned after 49 days in office. He had been at loggerheads with the Centre on many issues, from corruption to bringing Delhi police under the Delhi government, an issue which came into focus after Aam Aadmi Party’s law minister Somnath Bharti conducted a midnight raid in Khirki Extension.

With every gruesome incident, the AAP chief minister questioned the competence of the police and railed against the Centre’s control over Delhi police, citing its own helplessness at not being able to protect residents unless the police was brought under its control.

While the Centre seemed unfazed by the clamour, serious police misconduct came to the fore — bribe-taking, and ruthless beating in full public view and refusal to register FIRs. Irrespective of who forms the government of Delhi in the near future, for better policing, both the Centre and the state governments should go beyond the paradigm of “controlling the police” and plan jointly on how to improve the safety and security of Delhi residents.

For over 60 years now, successive governments — whether in states or at the Centre — have exercised political control over the police and this has undermined the quality of policing completely. We all know how the police, being a state subject, has been used by the executive for their vested interests.

The police is repeatedly accused by the highest court of being cruel, biased, corrupt and unlawful. Across the country, people perceive policemen as oppressive and unhelpful, responding only to the needs of the rich and powerful. And the rich and powerful obviously don’t find much wrong with this arrangement.

Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav believes that law and order in Uttar Pradesh is well served when the whole police machinery is galvanised to hunt for his minister Azam Khan’s seven buffaloes. The needs of 21 crore of his state’s people be damned!

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has no complaints about poor police response to rapes across the state. According to her, every rape is “sajano golpo (a cooked up story)”. Meanwhile, AAP’s law minister Somnath Bharti’s spat with the Delhi police while carrying out raids in South Delhi did not exactly fill the public with confidence that the AAP wanted a public service rather than a party servant.

There is a great deal of merit in wanting local supervision over Delhi police, for it is anomalous that the police reports to Delhi’s lieutenant-governor, who in turn reports to the ministry of home affairs where all postings and transfers are decided. Despite this, Delhi chief minister could have done a lot to improve policing.

In 2010, the ministry of home affairs set up the Delhi State Security Commission in grudging deference to the 2006 directions of the Supreme Court. This was prompted by the judgment in response on a civil writ petition filed by two retired Indian Police Service officers, one of whom was Prakash Singh, praying for issue of orders to the government to implement the recommendations of the National Police Commission. The Supreme Court directed the Central and state governments to comply with a set of seven directives to kickstart police reforms. One of the directives was the setting up of the State Security Commission in states and Union Territories.

The security commission is a bipartisan body that is supposed to frame a broad policy for better policing, which should include performance indicators, as well as a mechanism to evaluate police performance annually.

The idea was to get rid of individualistic and ad hoc political control over the police that is rampant everywhere.

The lieutenant-governor chairs and convenes the security commission, whose members include the chief minister, the police commissioner, the Leader of the Opposition of the Delhi Assembly, the joint secretary UTs from the home ministry, and five independent members — though currently there are only four as Najeeb Jung, who was an independent member is now chairing the commission in his capacity as lieutenant-governor — to make sure there is a pool of specialisation, expertise and diverse perspectives available for deliberations.

The security commission was created so that no one man, or one party, or one set of interests can dictate how policing gets done. Rather it is required to benefit from various points of view and come up with a policing policy, a plan from the police chief and have him report back so that the police improves its performance. The court’s judgment required that the security commission report back to the state Assembly. Since policing in Delhi is directly under the ministry of home affairs it is also standard procedure for the police to report to Parliament.

The Delhi State Security Commission provides the Delhi chief minister a forum for direct influence on policing as much as it allows the lieutenant-governor, the home ministry and the police chief a forum to put forward and find solutions for challenges. As a collective they would have access to all the facts and enough diversity of experience to come up with a fine policy for improved policing. Despite its potential, however, the forum has met just five times since 2011. There is no evidence of an annual report being submitted to elected representatives and the minutes of these five meetings are not publicly available.

Mr Kejriwal could have begun here, by making police accountable to all, not just to himself and his ministers.

With Delhi under President’s rule, without a chief minister for the moment, the security commission remains as relevant as ever. The onus rests with the lieutenant-governor to activate the commission, with the diligent participation of all other members. For the public, it does not matter who “controls” the police. They just want to feel safe and secure.

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