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PERSPECTIVE: OVERCOMING POLICING CHALLENGES

4th February, 2023

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Context:

  • There is a need to make the police forces more sensitive and train them in emerging technologies. That was what Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasized at the 57th All-India Conference of Director Generals & Inspector Generals of Police.
  • At the three-day conference, the Prime Minister also recommended repealing obsolete criminal laws and building standards for police organizations across states. To improve jail management, the Prime Minister suggested prison reforms.
  • Besides, he also discussed strengthening of the border and coastal security by organizing frequent visits of officials.
  • Emphasizing on the importance of the National Data Governance Framework, the Prime Minister said it will help in smoothing data exchange across agencies.

Police:

  • Under the Constitution, police is a subject governed by states. Therefore, each of the 29 states have their own police forces. 
  • The centre is also allowed to maintain its own police forces to assist the states with ensuring law and order. Therefore, it maintains seven central police forcesand some other police organisations for specialised tasks such as intelligence gathering, investigation, research and record-keeping, and training. 
  • The primary role of police forces is to uphold and enforce laws, investigate crimes and ensure security for people in the country.

 

Challenges facing the Police Forces in India:

Overburdened force and vacancies

  • India’s sanctioned strength is 181 police per lakh people, compared to the UN’s suggested standard of 222 police per lakh people.
  • As a result, the average police officer ends up with a massive burden and extended working hours.
  • Understaffing leads to overburdening of work, which not only reduces the effectiveness and efficiency of police officers leading to poor investigation quality.

Infrastructure

  • As per the the CAG (Comptroller and Auditor General of India) and the BPRD (Bureau of Police Research and Development) the weapons used by lower police forces are obsoleteand cannot match modern weaponry used by anti-social elements. 
  • The CAG discovered that numerous state police departments’ weaponry is archaic, and the purchase process for firearms is lengthy, resulting in a scarcity of arms and ammunition. For example, Rajasthan and West Bengal had shortages of 75% and 71% respectively in required weaponry with the state police.
  • Police vehicles are in limited supply, according to audits. New automobiles are frequently employed to replace older vehicles, and drivers are in short supply.
  • The central government launched the POLNET (Police Telecommunication Network) project in 2002 to connect the country’s police and paramilitary forces through a satellite-based communication network that will be substantially faster than the current radio communications system. However, audits have revealed that the POLNET network is non-operative in various states.

Misuse of Political Power

  • In India, the political executive (i.e., ministers) has the power of superintendence and control over the police forces to ensure their accountability.
  • However, the Second Administrative Reforms Commission has noted that this power has been misused, and ministers have used police forces for personal and political reasons. 

Investigation of crime

  • Crime per lakh population has increased by 28% over the last decade (2005-2015).
  • The police do not havethe necessary training or expertise to undertake professional investigations. They also lack legal understanding (on issues such as the admission of evidence), and their forensic and cyberinfrastructure is both weak and antiquated.
  • The quality of crime investigation has reduced due to higher crime rates, low conviction rates, several vacancies, and overburdened police staff.

Police priorities influenced by Political Power

  • Police priorities are constantly changed at the request of political leaders. This obstructs police officers’ ability to make professional decisions (e.g., how to respond to law and order situations or conduct investigations), leading to biased performance of tasks. 
  • This leads to a lack of accountability of the police and to a misuse of power to abide by the political ideologies. 

Budgetary constraints

  • While state police forces are responsible for maintaining law and order and investigating crimes, central forces assist them with intelligence and internal security challenges (e.g., insurgencies).
  • Expenditure on police accounts for about 3% of the central and state government budgets.

Public Police Relationship

  • The Second Administrative Reforms Commissionhas noted that police-public relations is in an unsatisfactory state because people view the police as corrupt, inefficient, politically partisan and unresponsive.
  • Most people believe police to be abusiveand also believe that police personnel misuse their power.
  • The police-public relations relationship, which is crucial to effective policing, is troubled by a severe lack of confidence.

Constabulary related issues

  • The Second Administrative Reforms Commissionhas noted that the promotion opportunities and working conditions of constables are poor, and need to be improved.
  • Generally, a constable in India can expect only one promotion in his lifetime, and normally retires as a head constable, which weakens his incentive to perform well.  This system may be contrasted with that in the United Kingdom, where police officers generally start as constables and progress through each rank in order.

Obsolete Police Act 1861

  • The current legal framework, comprising the Police Act 1861 and other state specific laws, is deficient in establishing an accountable police force. While multiple reform proposals have been recognized by the Government of India and the Supreme Court, such reform has not been achieved or implemented to the desired extent.
  • Since policing is a State subject under the Constitution, states have been entrusted with the power to enact their own legislations governing the police. Most States have continued to legitimise the status quo by following the 1861 Act and showcasing political indifference towards calls for police reforms. For instance, the Model Police Act, 2006, born out of recommendations from the Police Act Drafting Committee, and the Supreme Court’s directives in the Prakash Singh judgement, has still not been uniformly implemented across states, with certain state Acts being in blatant disregard of the apex court’s directives.
  • The Police Act 1861 is deficient on multiple accounts. Section 3 of the Act vests the superintendence of the police in the state government. Similarly, Section 23 of the Act places a duty on every police officer to promptly obey and execute all orders and warrants lawfully issued to him by a competent authority, thereby making the officer subservient to those wielding political power in the state or occupying higher ranks. These political affiliations prevent the police from discharging their functions independently. It also interferes with the exercise of democratic freedoms by those who form the political opposition in a particular state.
  • The Act is silent on matters concerning transfer and promotion of police officers due to which officers who resist political interference are often transferred to remote locations or their promotions are wrongfully withheld. Further, the list of duties to be discharged by police officers enlisted under Section 23 is rudimentary and does not recognize a role of the police in upholding human rights, reducing opportunities for the commission of crimes or promoting amity in society.

Ineffective State Police Complaints Authorities (SPCAs)

  • On the institutional front, State Police Complaints Authorities (SPCAs), constituted to investigate complaints of misconduct against police officers, have proved woefully ineffective in establishing external accountability.
  • Despite the requirement of setting up such bodies at the district level, most states have set up single-tier bodies in the capital, overburdening the Commission and deterring complainants from reporting misconduct.
  • In most states, the complaints authority lacks the power to monitor departmental inquiries, and very few states provide for stringent time limits within which the authorities must complete their inquiry.

Lack of Operational Efficiency

  • The constables under the police act constitute 86% of the police forces. They lack adequate operational efficiency; their routine tasks involve duties towards wise decision-and judgment.
  • It is also suggested that there needs a modification in the qualification and eligibility criteria of such hired constables. The current system requires a change in the recruitment policies and administration governing them.

Criminal nexus between Politicians and Police

  • There has been unvarying use of dominance and abuse of power by the politicians over the police force.
  • In the current scenario, the regime of police is controlled by the executive, the state police are controlled and dominated by the state action while the special police forces viz. CRPF, CISF, BSF, SSB are controlled by the Ministry of Home Affairs, which results in creating prejudice against the obedience of the police personnel towards their respective duties.

Heavy Workload and Overburdened System

  • There has been a scarcity of police forces in India which results in unsatisfactory working situations with enormous workload and long working hours.

Viable Policy and Public Relations

  • The connection and relationship of police with the public of its jurisdiction should be sound and healthy because to eradicate the crime from the society, police need support and helping hand of ordinary civilians in discharging public functions such as maintaining law and order and solving crimes against society.

Inadequate Resources

  • According to the reports submitted by the Bureau of Police Research and development, there has been an acute shortage of weapons, and police vehicles, and underutilization of funds for modernization. For such modernization, funds are been allocated to the department of police both by the centre and the state, but the problem arises regarding its utilization. Shortage of police vehicles and their undermining capacity retards their effectiveness towards the response time of the police.
  • It has also been found that the weapons provided according to the hierarchy of forces are outdated and the process of obtaining arms and ammunition is also time-consuming and slow.

Status of Policing in India Report 2019 :

Status of Policing in India Report 2019 by Common Cause and Centre for the Study Developing Societies, highlights the dismal work conditions in which the police operate in the country.

Challenges In Indian Prison System:

Over Crowding

  • Congestion in jails, particularly among undertrials has been a source of concern. Data show that in 2021, the latest year for which numbers are available, over 5.54 lakh people were lodged in prison, while the total capacity of Indian jails was about 4.25 lakh.
  • This means that the occupancy rate of Indian prisons was 130%, a peak at least in the last decade.

Lack of legal Access

  • According to the latest available data released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) for 2020, about 76% of all prisoners in India are undertrials.
  • Undertrials tend to have restricted access to legal representatives. Many undertrials are poor people accused of minor offences, locked away for long periods because they are not aware of their rights and cannot access legal aid. Lack of financial resources and a robust support system, and the limited ability to communicate with lawyers from within the jail premises hamper their ability to defend themselves in the court of law.
  • This is despite a landmark Supreme Court ruling that Article 21 of the constitution entitles prisoners to a fair and speedy trial as part of their fundamental right to life and liberty.

Unhealthy Living Conditions

  • The overcrowding in the prisons leads to unsatisfactory living conditions.
  • Poor sanitary conditions, inadequate lighting and ventilation, extremes of temperature, insect and rodent infestation and insufficient or non-existent personal hygiene supplies all have a negative impact on the health of persons detained.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the dire need to reduce prison overcrowding and improve prison conditions globally.

Corruption

  • Corruption by prison staff, and its less aggressive corollary, guard corruption, is common in prisons around the world.
  • Given that the substantial power, guards exercised over inmates, these problems are predictable, but the low salaries that guards are generally paid severely aggravate them.
  • In exchange for contraband or special treatment, inmates supplement guards’ salaries with bribes.

Staff Shortage and Inadequate Training

  • The ratio between the prison staff and the prisoners in the Indian prison is approximately 1:7.
  • It means only one prison officer is available for 7 prisoners in India, while in the UK, 2 prison officers are available for every 3 prisoners.

Abuse of Prisoners

  • Physical abuse of prisoners by the guards is another chronic problem in the prisons of India.
  • In many prison systems in India, unwarranted beatings are an integral part of prison life.
  • Women prisoners in Indian prisons are particularly vulnerable to custodial sexual abuse.

Custodial Tortures /Deaths

  • The torture brutal physical treatment in custody by police official is other major Problem of jails in India.
  • Third-degree tortures within four walls of prison occur frequently and many times they remain unnoticed, such cases comes light when media or human rights commission gives any attention on it.
  • The Reports of National Human Rights Commission and State Human Right Commission depict growth of such incidents in last two decades.

Understaffing and Underfunding:

  • 33% of the total requirement of Prison officials Still lies vacant.
  • In the absence of adequate Prison Staff, overcrowding of Prisons leads to violence and other Criminal activities inside the Jails.

Solutions and Recommendations:

State Security Commission (SSC)

  • In Prakash Singh & Ors. v. U.O.I. & Ors88, the S.C. given direction to State Governments that, “Constitute a State Security Commission (SSC) to:

(i) Ensure that the State government does not exercise unwarranted influence or pressure on the police.

(ii) Lay down broad policy guideline and

(iii) Evaluate the performance of the State police.

Government responsibility to provide sufficient funds

  • It is the duty of the government to provide financial support taking into consideration the needs of the police for investigation, equipment, travel & other essential requirements.

Exclusive cadre for investigation

  • There should be separate cadre needs to be established in police system which exclusively look into the investigation matters apart from public order.

Trust building

  • It is necessary to create trust in the witnesses & victims so that they will not turn hostile. It can be done by proper counseling & showing the progress in the investigation. Transparency of police system is important in order to win the confidence of the citizens.

Removal of political interference

  • It is necessary to follow the Japanese police system which is based on political neutrality and democratic control, as it is built in such a way as to ensure absence of arbitrary and political interference.
  • The National Police Safety Commission & the National Police Agency is under the jurisdiction of the Cabinet Office, the Prime Minister is not empowered to exercise direct command or control.
  • This guarantees the Commission’s independence and ensures its political neutrality.

Police & Media

  • There should be friendly relations between police & media. Police should take the help of the media in investigating the crime.
  • Media should cooperate by not disclosing confidential information to the public.

Outsourcing and redistributing functions

  • The Second Administrative Reforms Commission has recommended that some non-core police duties (such as traffic control, disaster rescue and relief, and the issuance of court summonses) could be outsourced or redistributed to government departments or private entities as a measure to relieve the strain on police forces.
  • Other agencies may undertake these responsibilities because they do not necessitate any unique policing skills. This will also allow police departments to devote more time and resources to their primary policing responsibilities.

Specialised Investigating Units

  • To ensure better functioning of the police when it comes to investigating, the Law Commission suggests the setting up of separate and specialised investigating units within the police force which are solely responsible for the investigation of crimes. 
  • Limiting the political executive’s power of superintendence over police forces
  • Various experts have advocated that the political executive’s role of supervision over police forces be restricted to enable the police to be more operational and independent while still ensuring accountability. 
  • According to the Second Administrative Reforms Commission, this jurisdiction should be limited to boosting professional efficiency and ensuring that police officers follow the law.
  • The Supreme Court and the Second Administrative Reforms Commission have both stated that an independent complaints authority is needed to investigate allegations of police misconduct and ensure accountability.

Directions of the Supreme Court in Prakash Singh v. Union of India (2006)

In 1996, a petition was filed with the Supreme Court alleging that police officers abuse and misuse their authority. The court issued numerous directives to the federal government and the states in September 2006.

The following are the guidelines:

    • Every state should establish a state security commission to set policies for police operations, review police performance, and ensure that state administrations do not exert undue influence over the police.
    • Police complaints authorities should be established at the state and district levels to investigate complaints of serious misconduct and abuse of authority by police officers.
    • To enable a faster investigation, better competence, and stronger public relations, separate the investigative and law enforcement officers.
    • These guidelines have been implemented in some states. The above guidelines serve to enhance the efficiency of the police system in India and do away with the problems that are faced by them at the moment. 

Community Policing Model

  • One of the ways of improving Public-Police Relationship is through the community policing model.  Community policing requires the police to work with the community for prevention and detection of crime, maintenance of public order, and resolving local conflicts, with the objective of providing a better quality of life and sense of security. 
  • It may include patrolling by the police for non-emergency interactions with the public, actively soliciting requests for service not involving criminal matters, community-based crime prevention, and creating mechanisms for grassroots feedback from the community. 
  • Various states have been experimenting with community policing including Kerala through ‘Janamaithri Suraksha Project’, Rajasthan through ‘Joint Patrolling Committees’, Assam through ‘Meira Paibi’, Tamil Nadu through ‘Friends of Police’, West Bengal through the ‘Community Policing Project’, Andhra Pradesh through ‘Maithri and Maharashtra through ‘Mohalla Committees’.

Examples of community policing in India

Janamaithri Suraksha in Kerala

This project is an initiative of the Kerala Police to facilitate greater accessibility, close interaction and better understanding between the police and local communities.  For example, Beat Constables are required to know at least one family member of every family living in his beat area, and allocate some time to meet with people outside the police station every week.  Janamaithri Suraksha Committees are also formed with municipal councilors, representatives of residents’ associations, local media, high schools and colleges, retired police officers, etc. to facilitate the process.

 

Meira Paibi (Torch-bearers) in Assam

The women of the Manipuri Basti in Guwahati help with improving the law and order problem in their area, by tackling drug abuse among the youth.  They light their torches and go around the basti guarding the entry and exit points, to prevent the youth of the area from going out after sunset.

Sources: Model Police Manual, Bureau of Police Research and Development; Kerala Police Website; PRS.

Independent Complaints Authority

  • The Second Administrative Reforms Commission and the Supreme Courthave observed that there is a need to have an independent complaints authority to inquire into cases of police misconduct. This may be because the political executive and internal police oversight mechanisms may favour law enforcement authorities, and not be able to form an independent and critical judgement.
  • For example,the United Kingdom has an Independent Office for Police Conduct, comprising of a Director General appointed by the crown, and six other members appointed by the executive and the existing members, to oversee complaints made against police officers.  Another example is that of the New York City Police which has a Civilian Complaint Review Board comprising civilians appointed by local government bodies and the police commissioner to investigate cases of police misconduct.
  • India has some independent authorities that have the power to examine specific kinds of misconduct.  For example, the National or State Human Rights Commission may be approached in case of human rights violations, or the state Lokayukta may be approached with a complaint of corruption.
  • However, the Second Administrative Reforms Commission has noted the absence of independent oversight authorities that specialize in addressing all kinds of police misconduct, and are easily accessible.
  • In light of this, under the Model Police Act, 2006drafted by the Police Act Drafting Committee (2005), and the Supreme Court guidelines (2006), states are required to set up state and district-level complaints authorities.

Model Police Act, 2006

Key features of the Model Police Act, 2006 include:

Organization and recruitment: Each state will have one police service, which shall be headed by the DGP.  Direct recruitments to subordinate ranks (i.e. below Deputy SP) will be made through a state-level Police Recruitment Board.  Recruitment to officers’ ranks will be through the Union Public Service Commission or State Public Service Commission. 

Responsibilities: The responsibilities of the police service will include:

     I.   Enforcing the law impartially, and protecting life, liberty, and human rights,

   II.   Preserving public order, and preventing terrorist, militant and other activities affecting internal security,

 III.   Protecting public properties,

 IV.   Preventing and investigating crimes,

   V.   Providing help in natural or man-made disasters,

 VI.   Collecting intelligence, etc.  In police stations in urban areas and crime-prone rural areas, investigation of heinous and economic crimes (e.g., murder, serious cases of cheating) will be carried out by a special crime investigation unit, headed by an officer at least of the rank of a sub-Inspector.  Officers of these units will generally not be diverted for any other duty.

Accountability: The state government will exercise superintendence over the police service.  This will include laying down policies and guidelines, setting standards for quality policing, and ensuring that the police perform their duties in a professional manner.  State Police Boards will be constituted in each state to frame guidelines, select officers who are qualified to be promoted to rank of DGP, and evaluate police performance.  Police Accountability Commissions will also be set up by states to address complaints of police misconduct.  However key police functionaries (e.g., DGP and police station in charge) will have a minimum tenure of two years unless they have been convicted by a court, or suspended from service, etc. 

Service Conditions: The state government will ensure that the average hours of duty of a police officer do not exceed 8 hours (in exceptional situations, 12 hours).  Adequate insurance coverage will also be provided to personnel against any injury disability or death caused in line of duty.  A Police Welfare Board must also be set up to administer and monitor welfare measures for police, including medical assistance, group housing, and legal aid for officers facing court proceedings.

Operational Freedom to Police

  • To allow the police greater operational freedom while ensuring accountability, various experts have recommended that the political executive’s power of superintendence over police forces be limited. The Second Administrative Reforms Commissionhas recommended that this power be limited to promoting professional efficiency and ensuring that the police is acting in accordance with law. 
  • Alternatively, the National Police Commission (1977-81) suggestedthat superintendence be defined in the law to exclude instructions that interfere with due process of law, or that influence operational decisions, or unlawfully influence police personnel transfers, recruitments, etc. The Supreme Court has also issued directions to states and the centre in 2006 in this regard.

Amendment of 1861 Police Act

  • The 1861 Act must be amended, in accordance with the Supreme Court’s directives and the Model Police Act, 2006.
  • A new Act must also lay down a legally binding charter of duties to be observed by the police in their discharge of duties. Provisions on sensitizing police officers towards vulnerable sections of society should also be incorporated to make the force more responsive to the needs of minority communities.

Transparent Appointments

  • Since the appointment of the director general of police, i.e., the chief of the police in a state, is pivotal to the police’s administration, there is a need to devise a transparent and merit-based procedure for such appointments.

Eliminate Political Interference

  • Providing a minimum tenure for posts like the director general of police, and other officers, along with clear legal provisions governing transfers and promotions, may insulate the police’s functioning from political interference.

Constitute SPCAs

  • SPCAs must be constituted and operated so that they have the necessary power to independently investigate allegations of police misconduct.
  • They are currently constituted by serving police officers and civil servants, which undermines the independence of these bodies. To promote accessibility, such authorities should also be established at the district level within each state.

Eradicating the Nexus

  • There is a dire need to separate the control of law and order with the implementation of such law and order, to break the tie of political leaders with the police personnel.
  • Political members who have committed various offenses and on whom proceedings are pending under the competent courts shall be debarred from contesting elections and attending legislative assemblies and the Parliament.
  • There needs to be the separation of the executive from the legislative on the ground reality and some independent statutory body should hold command.

Complaints Authority

  • To inquire into the alleged misconduct of the police forces an independent authority should be constituted.
  • The Model Police Act, 2000 requires setting up of such authority which shall be comprised of retired High Court Judges, retired police officers, Public Administrators from other states, and members of the civil society with the power regarding appointments and transfer.
  • All security-related issues of the state shall be in the hands of the Governor of the state and the President of India.

Advancement in Technology

  • To monitor such a populous nation, the installation of CCTV cameras in public places, a database should be maintained of professional criminals and should be disbursed at the central level, and innovative techniques such as drones and UAV to monitor the city should be used.

Fitness tests and continuous evaluation of the kills at regular intervals

  • The examination and evaluation regarding qualification, fitness, and other skills required to discharge the duties of police services shall be regulated and checked at regular intervals of time. A Performance Test should be one of the criteria for giving promotions.

Closing Thoughts:

  • Prime minister Narendra Modi has in the past called for making the police a SMART forcee., Strict and Sensitive, Modern and Mobile, Alert and Accountable, Reliable and Responsive, Tech Savvy and Trained.
  • Various studies indicate that when police officers treat citizens with dignity, allow them an equal voice in interactions and are guided by considerations of transparency and accountability, it strengthens people’s compliance with laws, ameliorating conditions for the commission of crimes.
  • While re-imaging a police force that performs its functions without fear or favor is a long haul, it is about time that positive steps are taken in the right direction to initiate this change.

 

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