The PM should at least get the Supreme Court order on police reforms implemented by all the states in the all-party meeting tomorrow.
You may not be interested in war but war is interested in you. ~Leon Trotsky
The Prime Minister has called for an all-party meeting tomorrow in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. In the usual course, these meetings end up in a few photo-ops, a “motherhood and apple pie” joint statement and achieve nothing concrete.
In an off-blog discussion with a fellow blogger at the INI, the discussion veered around to the starting point for the short-term plan to reinforce internal security. The creation of National Security Guards, who have been at the forefront of the current anti-terrorist operations, was itself a fallout of another anti-terrorist operation 24 years ago — Operation Blue Star. A wise and fleet-footed government could perhaps channelise this opportunity provided by Mumbai terror attacks and the accompanying public outrage into something similarly concrete.
The most pressing issue that would make a small but significant start is the vexed and long-pending issue of police reform. Former DG, BSF and DGP, UP and Assam, Prakash Singh was the petitioner in the Public Interest Litigation that led to the Supreme Court’s landmark judgement on police reforms. Here is a backgrounder on the police reforms.
On 22 September 2006, the Supreme Court of India delivered a historic judgement by instructing central and state governments to comply with a set of seven directives laying down practical mechanisms to kick-start police reform. The Court’s directives seek to achieve two main objectives: functional autonomy for the police – through security of tenure, streamlined appointment and transfer processes, and the creation of a “buffer body” between the police and the government – and enhanced police accountability, both for organisational performance and individual misconduct.
The Supreme Court ordered the establishment of three institutions at the state level with a view to insulating the police from extraneous influences:
– State Security Commission to lay down broad policies and give directions relating to the preventive and service-oriented functions of the police.
– A Police Establishment Board, comprising the Director-General of Police and four other senior officers to decide on all transfers, postings, promotions and other service-related matters of officers of and below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police. The Board was also tasked with making appropriate recommendations to the state government regarding the postings and transfers of officers of the rank of Superintendent of Police and above.
– A Police Complaints Authority at the district and state level to look into allegations of misconduct by police personnel.
In addition, the apex court ordered that the Director-General of Police should be selected by state governments from the three senior-most officers empanelled for promotion to that rank by the UPSC. It further stipulated that the DGP should have a prescribed minimum tenure of two years. Police officers on operational duty in the field, like the Inspector general (IG) Zone, Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Range, SP in charge of a district and Station House Officer (SHO) should also have a minimum tenure of two years.
The Court also ordered the separation of the investigating police from the law and order police to ensure speedier investigation, better expertise and improved rapport with the people. The Union government was also asked to set up a National Security Commission for the selection and placement of heads of central police organisations, upgrading the effectiveness of these forces and improving the service conditions of the personnel.
Given the “gravity of the problem” and “total uncertainty as to when police reforms would be introduced”, the Supreme Court considered that it could not “further wait for governments to take suitable steps for police reforms” and had to issue “appropriate directions for immediate compliance”. The Supreme Court required all governments, at centre and state levels, to comply with the seven directives by 31 December 2006 and to file affidavits of compliance by the 3rd of January 2007.
State government responses have varied tremendously, ranging from complying in time with the directives through executive orders, to expressing strong objections to the directives and asking the Court to review them. Others have requested the Court to grant them more time to comply with the judgment. Since January 2007 the SC has held eight hearings on this matter. On 11 January 2007, the Supreme Court cast away the objections raised and stated that its directions had to be complied with without any modification. The Court granted a three month extension to comply with four of its directives, while stating that the others had to be complied with immediately.
Despite a series of deadlines set by the court, many states filed for an extension of time to implement the directives or tabled their strong objections to the directives. On August 23, 2007, the court dismissed the review petitions filed by Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Punjab, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka as having no merit. Shockingly, the review petition of the government of India is still pending, despite the union’s consent to the original order in September 2006.
To date, only a handful of states are compliant or almost fully compliant with the directives handed down by the court on September 22, 2006. These states include Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Nagaland. The majority of states are still only partially compliant despite over two years having passed since the original judgement. Most states are dragging their feet on making Police Reforms a reality in India.
The worst offenders are Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh. Maharashtra has taken the stand that the Supreme Court’s directions are “inconsistent with statutory provisions in existence.” Tamil Nadu has argued that “courts have no power to pass directions by way of judicial order to affect the legislative autonomy of the state.” Uttar Pradesh has set up a Police Reforms Commission to draft a bill that can be passed by the legislature.
Moreover, nine states have passed laws or ordinances to circumvent the implementation of the Supreme Court’s directions. These are: Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Kerala and Rajasthan. The Bihar Police Bill 2007 is particularly perverse.
On 16 July 2008, SC again passed an order to set up a Monitoring Committee to look into the compliance by the states and union territories. It is mandated to examine the affidavits filed by the states and union territories, taking into account reported difficulties in implementation and unnecessary objections. It will report to the court after the first three months and subsequently every six months so that appropriate follow up action can be taken against the respondents. Further the court will examine the new police legislations passed after the judgment in 2006, to examine if the legislations are in compliance with the letter and spirit of the Apex court’s directions.[CHRI, TLM, CourtVerdict]
Every crisis is also an opportunity. Not many politicians in this country know this better than the current Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. He used the BoP crisis in 1991 to usher in an era of economic reforms. In the domain of internal security, he could similarly use this watershed opportunity to push in an era of police reforms. If this issue is placed on the agenda in the all-party meeting tomorrow, then no political party or the Chief Minister — whether it be Gujarat, Bihar, UP, Haryana or Maharashtra — would dare oppose it for fear of adverse public opinion and backlash. That would be a good start towards redefining internal security and the only silver lining in this dark cloud.
There cannot be a more apt way to underscore the need for police reforms than in the words of Prakash Singh himself.
The reforms, it needs to be understood, are not for the greater glory of the police. The reforms are for better security and protection of the people of the country, for upholding their human rights and generally for improving governance.