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Much-needed police reforms floundering

India on 31 October 2013
Location : Mumbai, India | Source : Times of India. Image Source: Flickr User Lukexmartin

If the high death rate among cops due to heart attack and suicide draws focus on their inhuman work conditions, custodial torture and killings highlight a need to make the policemen accountable for their actions. Both call for police reforms, which is floundering at the moment.

Maharashtra's police have been accused of torturing a wide-range of captives, from alleged Naxalites to alleged chain-snatchers. There's no recourse, except the courts, because the state still does not have a Police Complaints Authority (PCA). The Supreme Court had directed all states to set up PCAs in 2006 as part of the reforms.

There's a need to train the police in professional methods of investigation so that they don't resort to human rights violation, said Dolphy D'Souza of the citizen's initiative Police Reforms Watch. Slamming the state for the virtual absence of reforms, he pointed out that the government has moved several resolutions aimed at reforming the police force, but they have remained on paper.

Seven years after the SC directive on PCAs, only 15 states have passed Police Acts that create the authorities, found a study by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI). Of them, only seven have authorities both at the state and district levels, while five have only state authorities.

The study points at the alarming proportion of bureaucrats and police officers, retired and serving, that make up the PCAs. "This does not bode well for the growth of independent police oversight in India," concludes CHRI, pointing out that including serving police officers in a body set up to inquire into police excesses defeats the principal of natural justice.

Up to 61% of Kerala's PCAs are made up of serving police and government officials, the highest for any police complaints body in a democracy. Overall, 24% of all PCA officials in India are serving and retired government or police officers. Only 8% constitute civil society members.

Another disturbing trend in a few states involves vesting the functions of a PCA with another existing oversight body. The Delhi PCA functions out of the Delhi Public Grievance Commission.

"No state has taken the initiative or shown the political will to make PCAs independent and effective. PCAs are supposed to act as a speedy redressal mechanism for victims of police excess," said Devika Prasad, author of the CHRI report.

Thane police commissioner K P Raghuvanshi endorsed the view that policemen should be held responsible for any wrong that they do.

"When we say that a person is in police custody, this implies that he will be safe. Unfortunately this is not always the case," he said, adding that often the excessive workload of policemen results in extra-constitutional methods such as torture.

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