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State of indifference to blame for police reforms hitting roadblock

India on 06 September 2013
Location : New Delhi, India | Source : New Indian Express. Image Source: New Indian Express

Nirbhaya I happened in Delhi. And now, there is Nirbhaya II in Mumbai. In between, there would have been any number of other cases which could not hit the headlines. It appears not much has changed notwithstanding all the expressions of popular anger and candlelight processions. The Justice JS Verma Committee, which was appointed in the wake of the Delhi gangrape incident, had recommended a comprehensive set of measures. One of those related to “full compliance” of the Supreme Court’s directions on police reforms as “of utmost priority to national welfare, including the welfare of women and children”.

It is a great pity that the state governments continue to be indifferent to police reforms. There is, in fact, a cruel poetic justice in the Nirbhaya II happening. The Maharashtra government, in its latest affidavit to the Supreme Court, has taken the stand that the court’s directions are “inconsistent with and contrary to the procedure laid down by the Constitution”. It took six years for this realisation to dawn on the state government—obviously, an after thought, an indefensible argument by a defiant state.

Have the police reforms hit a roadblock? The political executive appears to be fighting a last ditch battle to frustrate the process of police reforms. The desperation of political class and bureaucracy can be understood. A zamindar fights tooth and nail to preserve his authority over his fiefdom. The politicians and bureaucrats, both used to lording over the police, are doing precisely the same. What is in the best interest of the country is not of much consequence to them.

It is significant that 15 states passed legislation following the Supreme Court’s judgment of September 22, 2006. The normal expectation was that these police Acts would be in compliance to the Supreme Court’s directions. But the truth is that the states passed these laws essentially to circumvent the implementation of court’s directions. The 2006 judgment contained the mandatory provision that the Central and state governments and the Union Territories were being given directions “for compliance till framing of the appropriate legislations”. The state governments pounced on this clause and hurriedly did something they had not done for nearly the past six decades—enact laws to perpetuate the status quo and frustrate the court’s intention to reform the police.

The dilemma before the Supreme Court is now two-fold—how to tackle the recalcitrant states, which have passed executive orders only in partial compliance of the court’s directions, and what to do with the states that have passed laws in violation of the letter and spirit of the court’s directions. The court has been proceeding very cautiously, calling upon the states to file submissions on their compliance of the various directions. These are examined by the court and depending upon how satisfactory or unsatisfactory they are, fresh instructions are issued. In the process, seven years have passed. The question is how long will this game of hide and seek go on, how long will the states continue to dodge and fudge? The court’s directions were not meant for the glory of the police—they were meant to give a more responsible, sensitive, humane and accountable police to the country. Compliance of the directions shall have to be ensured. Resistance of the states will have to be overcome even if that involves unpleasantness in the process.

The other dilemma relates to whether the apex court would allow the states to hoodwink the judiciary by passing laws to legitimise the status quo. The court had issued directions to uphold the fundamental rights and ensure that the citizens of this country get a people-friendly police.  Fortunately, one of the leading advocates of the country has challenged the constitutional validity of these Acts and urged the Supreme Court to declare the legislations enacted by the 15 states as null and void. The states just cannot be allowed to act smart with the Supreme Court.

Police reforms in the country are absolutely essential—not only for better policing but, taking a larger view, to uphold the democratic structure of the country and ensure its sustained economic progress. These are not an option, but a must.

[The author is a former DGP Assam and UP, and DG (BSF)]

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