Tag Archives | Supreme Court

(Abysmal) state of police reforms

A new report by CHRI throws more light on the gravity of the problem

In 2008, CHRI had published a report on Police Reforms in South Asia titled, Feudal Forces: Reform Delayed – Moving from Force to Service in South Asian Policing. Now, it has come up with this update of the report for 2010, Feudal Forces: Reform Delayed [pdf here] (via Saikat Datta) which captures the pace of reforms and the obstacles that are coming in the way of Police Reforms. The portion pertaining to India, Chapter 3 of the Report, has been uploaded by Pragmatic Euphony here. The chapter is worth a read in its entirety.

Just to provide an example of the challenge India faces in implementing Police Reforms, here is a chart depicting the compliance of various states to the directives of the Supreme Court on the subject.

Click on the picture for a larger image

Here is a quick glance at the recommendations of the Supreme Court on Police Reforms that the above graph refers to:

  • Set up state security commissions
  • Selection of DGP of the state with a two-year fixed tenure
  • Two-year fixed tenure for IG, DIG, SP &  SHO
  • Separate law and order from investigation
  • Set up a Police Establishment Board at state level for postings and transfers
  • Set up police complaints authority at district and state level

Related Post: No-go for police reforms

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No-go for police reforms

Not much hope from the reactions in the CM’s conference on internal security

From the Prime Minister’s address at the Chief Ministers’ Conference on Internal Security:

We cannot continue to police our society with archaic laws and policing systems. We are aware that many Police Commissions have made various recommendations on police reforms. I urge the states to seriously look into this aspect. I would like the Ministry of Home Affairs to carry forward this exercise to its logical conclusion in the Union Territory of Delhi during the coming years so that Delhi Police becomes a model for other state police forces to emulate.[PIB]

It is no secret that despite strictures by the Supreme Court, no state in India — irrespective of the party in power — is keen on police reforms. As law and order happens to be a state subject, the new acts will have to be passed by the state legislatures and fresh notifications issued by the state governments. The centre can only request the states to abide by the decisions of the Supreme Court.

However, Delhi Police happens to come directly under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Home Affairs at the centre. The central government thus has no excuse for not initiating police reforms in Delhi. MHA’s Year-end review for 2010 states this on the subject:

…as per the directives of the Supreme Court on police reforms, MHA decided to set up a State Security Commission for all UTs which would lay down broad policies and evaluate performance of the police in each UT, to set up two Police Establishment Boards (PEB) in each UT, one for the the ranks of Inspectors and above and the other for Sub-Inspectors and below. The PEBs would decide all transfers, postings, promotions and other service-related matters set up a Police Complaints Authority in each UT accord two-year tenures in UTs to key police functionaries, except under exceptional circumstances and administrative exigencies which would be recorded in writing and separate police personnel into law and order and investigative wings in UTs.[ANI]

This seems to be a good move on the face of it. Even if the PM did not lay down any time-frame for completing the reforms in Delhi, it generates hope that some progress is being made on the subject by the centre. But wait till you read the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative’s critique of the the setting up of a Union Territories Security Commission (pdf here). It is now up to the monitoring committee formed by the Supreme Court to ensure that these anomalies are fixed by the MHA at the earliest.

In the CM’s conference, two CMs have been reported to be particularly opposed to the Supreme Court mandated proposal of police reforms. One was Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi:

On the issue of police reforms, the chief minister said the Supreme Court order in the Prakash Singh Vs Union of India case would lead to ‘creation of new power centres’ in the forms of Security Commission and Police Complaints Authority, which may become difficult to be handled even by the judiciary.[Rediff]

The other one to oppose the proposals was Bihar CM Nitish Kumar:

“The Centre should also desist from framing rules providing for any type of role to be exercised by the UPSC or Ministry of Home Affairs in matters like selection of DGP. The efforts of the Union government to maintain internal security will succeed only if states are enabled to exercise effective control over policing, dilution of which under the guise of police reforms must be avoided,” he said.

Urging the participating CMs to build a consensus to protect the accountability of the police force to the state government, Kumar said, “If some people think that powers of the state governments need to be curtailed…they should press for constitutional amendment to remove police and public order from the administrative and legislative purview of the states and give the powers and the responsibility to the Centre.”[Rediff]

There are arguments made by various people that reform can never be a top-led initiative in a democracy. It has to be a people’s movement at the grass-roots that will lead to change in political outlook. While this romanticism sounds good in theory, the reality is totally opposite. The Indian Constitution, though a very fine document, was purely a product of a top-down process. The military reforms after 1962 and economic reforms in 1991 were driven by crisis, not by any constituency canvassing for those reforms. The Right to Information (RTI), though canvassed by a vocal minority for years, had not captured the popular imagination of the masses. The UPA 1.0 did not win the 2004 polls on the promise of the RTI. It was the influence wielded by the proponents of the Act in the NAC headed by Mrs Sonia Gandhi that led to the promulgation of the RTI act.

It is presumptuous to assume that a large number of Indians are going to come on to the streets, as is being witnessed in Egypt now, and ask for police reforms or a Blue Ribbon Commission on defence. That is not going to happen in our lifetime. These initiatives will be driven by the political class only under two conditions: one, a crisis of immense magnitude that leaves no option but to reform; and two, a political leader who genuinely believes in these reforms and has the political capital to push them through.

Yes, it is all about politics. And politics has never been better defined than by Ambrose Bierce in The Devil’s Dictionary:

Politics, n. A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.


P.S. – Do read the opening remarks by the Union Minister for Home Affairs P Chidambaram, giving an overview of the security situation in the country and the progress made on various security related aspects since the last conference. They are educative and sensible, far away from platitudes and clichés usually heard at such conferences.

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Frankly, we don’t give a damn

It is right to blame the lack of political will for stalling police reforms. But what about the non-existent public will?

If the centre and all the state governments were really bound by the directions of the Supreme Court, India would certainly have been a more secure country by now, and its populace better protected. On 22 September 2006, the judgement of the Supreme Court on Police Reforms required all governments, at centre and state levels, to comply with its seven directives by 31 December 2006 and to file affidavits of compliance by the 3 January 2007. As we all know now, not much progress has been achieved on that front till date.

Here is an old post on the subject which explains the directives of the Supreme Court. To sum them up, these were:

  • Separate law and order from investigation
  • Set up a Police Establishment Board at state level for postings and transfers
  • Selection of DGP of the state with a two-year fixed tenure
  • Two-year fixed tenure for IG, DIG, SP &  SHO
  • Set up National Security Commission for selection and posting of heads of central police organisations
  • Set up police complaints authority at district and state level
  • Set up state security commissions

Today’s The Tribune does a great job of summarising the present status of the progress achieved on these directives:

  • Not a single state has managed to fulfil all the criteria prescribed by the Supreme Court with regard to the State Security Commission (SSCs). Most states have set up SSCs that do not reflect the court’s criteria with regard to the composition, function and powers. States such as Tamil Nadu, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and Andhra Pradesh are in complete non-compliance with this directive.
  • Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland are the only states that have adopted the court’s prescribed criteria with regard to the selection, tenure and removal of the Director-General of Police. A few states have only partially incorporated these criteria whilst several states such as Karnataka, Jharkhand, Haryana, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh are not compliant with this directive.
  • Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and the north-eastern states of Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland are in full compliance with this directive which provides for a fixed tenure for officers on operational duties. While a few states have partially satisfied the criteria set by the Supreme Court, it is notable that the majority are not in compliance with this directive.
  • Several states such as Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka and Sikkim have complied with the Supreme Court’s directive to separate the law and order police with the investigation police. However, a majority of states have not fully implemented this directive.
  • Most states have established a Police Establishment Board, but only Arunachal Pradesh and Goa are in full compliance with all the court’s stipulated criteria in this regard. In contrast, Bihar is the only state which has taken no steps towards complying with this directive.
  • No state government has established Police Complaints Authorities at both district and state level that fully comply with the Supreme Court’s orders. Many states have established Authorities which only partially comply with the court’s directive in terms of the composition, mandate and powers. Many states — Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Mizoram, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Jammu and Kashmir and Andhra Pradesh have completely ignored this directive.

Out of 636 districts in the country, 223 districts, as per MHA’s 2009 estimate, are affected by Maoist activities; another 20 districts by the Pakistan-backed jehadi war in Jammu & Kashmir; and 67 districts by the multiple insurgencies that trouble India’s North-East: that makes it 310 districts out of a total of 636. In addition, the country has suffered from and continues to live a constant threat of jehadi terror; it has suffered spectacular terror strikes — from the attack on Indian Parliament to the terror strike on Mumbai.  These facts, by themselves, should have been enough incentive for the centre and state governments to pursue police reforms. But even the judgement by the Supreme Court to pursue these reforms has failed to budge them.

An oft-cited culprit for reluctance for police reforms among governments of all political hues is  a lack of political will. But what is this animal called political will? Ultimately,  political will is a hypothetical condition that is nearly impossible to define and measure. Evidence  of political will is typically indirect and retrospective — with a failure to implement bold policy prescriptions bandied as manifesting a lack of political will, and successful implementation constituting proof of its  existence. However, going by Hammergren’s characterisation of political will as “the slipperiest concept in the policy  lexicon,” where it is “the sina qua non of policy success which is never defined except by its  absence,” lack of police reforms in India is a indubitably a case of lack of political will.

Even if one accepts that there is no political will, what this nation doesn’t have either on the subject is the “public will”. Public will, which is committed public opinion or effective public opinion, is closely linked to political will in a representative democracy like India. Where is the visible public support for achieving policy action on police reforms in India? Without a place on  the public agenda and subsequent creation of the public will, there is little chance that the political class will support police reforms. The media can play a major role in this agenda-setting process but it has, lamentably, failed to focus on this issue of grave national importance.

This non-starter experience with police reforms, despite the Supreme Court judgement, is enough proof that no major policy reform in India can happen today due to the absence of political will. In today’s times, when interests of the political class run contrary to such a policy change, only an exhibition of firm public will can lead to creation of political will to undertake police reforms. While media can play an important role in shaping the public opinion and setting the public agenda, on its own often this is not  enough to effect large-scale policy change. The major impetus for this reformist initiative will have to come from the civil society.

But can India boast of such an activist civil society today? Unfortunately, the answer is in the negative.

Oh, and yes, these directives were passed by the Supreme Court in 2006, as part of its judgement on a PIL that was filed in 1996. 1996! 14 years and still counting…

Let it be said then. This nation — the political parties, the government, the media, the judiciary and even the civil society — truly doesn’t give a damn about the safety, security and protection of its own citizens.

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All’s well that ends well

The decision to revoke the ban on pre-paid mobile telephones is a welcome one.

Thank God, the ban on pre-paid mobiles in Jammu & Kashmir has finally been revoked. The manner in which the ban was imposed — it wasn’t even publicised that the telecom department had also imposed a penalty of Rs 7.38 crore on the six service providers operating in the state from 2008 to November 2009 — from November last year was a policy decision befitting the communist China more than a democratic republic like India. The ban was challenged in the Supreme Court by Bhim Singh of the J&K Panthers Party and the reasoning proffered by the government of India was unitary — national security.

“The Central government had received intelligence inputs that proper verification of the identity and address of the subscriber was not being done as per the directions of the government while providing pre-paid mobile connections by the service providers.”

It said: “Use of fake documents/identity numbers was also prevalent particularly in the case of pre-paid connections. The misuse of SIM cards by militants was noticed in 2007 by the J&K police which found that a SIM card used to trigger a landmine targeting an Army convoy was registered in a fake name.”

The Centre said that after the imposition of the ban, the government had received reports that it had a significant impact on the communication networks of terrorist and anti-national elements, who were previously using fraudulently obtained pre-paid connections. “An executive decision in the interest of national security cannot be subjected to judicial review,” it said and sought dismissal of the petition.[Hindu]

More interestingly, there was a categorical declaration by the Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium in the Supreme Court on 8 January:

We cannot revoke the ban. It is due to the security reasons the ban on pre-paid mobile services has been imposed.[Rediff]

The next hearing was scheduled for 25 January and four days before that hearing, the Indian government does a complete turn-around and suddenly lifts the ban. The solution offered — of stringent security verifications[pdf] on par with post-paid connections — is something that could have been explored much earlier. So what triggered this sudden turn-around by the government?

The official version is that “the ban was lifted because all the service providers now had a “reliable and stringent” system to verify all customers”. If that sounds incredulous, then it is probably so.

A politically beleaguered J&K Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah would have certainly liked to take the credit for revoking the ban to boost his own ratings. But when the centre announced the decision on its own without involving him, Mr Abdullah had no choice but to welcome the decision.

“The decision of lifting the ban has come as a relief to tens of thousands of subscribers” and “also thousands of young people who are engaged with this activity”[AFP]

However, it seems that the government’s hand was forced by the decision of the Supreme Court to hear the case on 25 January. Centre had perhaps realised that it was on a weak footing and thus pre-empted the decision of the Supreme Court. Besides saving the government the embarrassment of seeing its ban being over-turned by judicial intervention, the centre must also have been worried about being forced to revert to old security verification guidelines for pre-paid connections by the court diktat.

The most interesting aspect of this ban and its revocation is the nature of decision-making in the government. The ban on pre-paid mobile connections was a political decision directed by security considerations. Now, the decision to revoke that ban is again a political decision pre-empted by judicial considerations. The conflation of politics, security and judiciary in governance leads to the right decision. Eventually. All’s well that ends well.

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Kick-starting police reforms

Chidambaram should follow the GST model.

The Supreme Court has tried manfully for a few years now, but to little avail,  to implement police reforms in this country. The handful of states — mainly the North-Eastern states — which have undertaken a partial implementation of the SC recommendations have been virtually forced to do so. The central government provides aid to these state police forces, which has been tied up by the centre to implementation of SC-mandated police reforms. For bigger and more prosperous states like UP, Punjab, Gujarat and Maharashtra, there are no such pecuniary constraints to force their hand.

Besides moving against the LWE threat, there is another significant area of law and order where the Home Minister has finally made a move — police reforms. Rather than wait for a political consensus and a pan-India roll-out of reforms, a small but significant step is being taken towards reforming Delhi police (and police forces of other union territories).

To free up police transfers, postings, promotions and other service-related matters from political control, the Centre is moving to set up Police Establishment Boards in the National Capital Territory of Delhi and other Union Territories which will decide on these issues.[Indian Express]

This is only the first step. Police reforms in Delhi can not be allowed to stop at this single proposal. It must be followed by implementing all the other recommendations made by the Supreme Court. More importantly, the central government has to find a way — within the ambit of the constitution, which mandates police to be a state subject — to lure, coerce or force all the other states of the Union to travel down the same path.

One of the models to co-opt the states could be the path followed by the Union finance ministry for rolling out the goods and services tax (GST), when Mr. Chidambaram was the finance minister. An empowered committee of home ministers of various states — aided by the SC-mandated police reforms implementation monitoring committee — should chalk out a time bound implementation plan for the complete country.

Every one understands that police reforms are far more difficult to push through than the pan-India GST. Unlike the GST roll out [even GST proposals have been brewing for over five years now; it was scheduled to be an April 2007 roll out], police reforms directly impinge on the power of the politicians to control and leverage the state police. There would thus be far greater political resistance to implementing police reforms. Nevertheless, a beginning has to be made and a breakthrough has to be found through the impasse. Following the GST model — with suitable support from the centre, courts, media and the public — seems to be the only sensible way out.

P.S. – Amidst all the hype and hoopla surrounding Shahrukh Khan’s detention and the H1N1B virus, most media houses have failed to notice that the Home Minister has come out with a plan for countering the Maoist threat. As Retributions highlights, he has got the sequence right — security first.

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No OROP for veterans

Supreme Court had passed a judgement in 1982 on the One Rank One Pension scheme for military veterans and the KP Singh Deo Committee had recommended the same unequivocally in 1984. It was also one of the main planks for protests by veterans earlier this year. However the defence minister has categorically stated its unacceptability in the Rajya Sabha today.

Government has not found acceptable the demand of Ex-Servicemen for one rank one pension. This information was given by Defence Minister Shri AK Antony in a written reply to Shri Kalraj Mishra in Rajya Sabha today. The defence personnel have not rejected the recommendations of the Sixth Central Pay Commission, he added.[PIB]

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A starting point — Police reforms

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.

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