Professional autonomy, non-interference and an external accountability mechanism are imperative to make policing in India more effective, experts say.
At a national level seminar here Friday on police reforms, police accountability and community policing, judges, accountability commission chiefs, senior lawyers, top police officials, bureaucrats and NGO leaders advocated reforms in policing and voiced concern over the people losing trust in the police.
Tripura High Court Chief Justice Deepak Gupta said: "Police must be given a free hand and professional autonomy to deal with the crimes and law and order situations. The investigating wing of the police must be improved. If the guilty do not get punished, people would lose faith on the justice delivery system."
Sharply criticising the police, judge Gupta said that delays in registering FIRs is a punishable offence. "There are many instances of the police not registering FIRs, violating the provisions of the Cr PC (Code of Criminal Procedure) and court directives," he added.
He also urged the state governments and other competent authorities to train up public prosecutors to improve the quality of the justice delivery system.
Tripura police chief C. Balasubramanian, supporting an external accountability mechanism, said that the national conviction rate of all types of crime is around 38 percent. "Police have to establish the criminal acts beyond doubt before the court and this sometimes becomes very difficult."
Andaman and Nicobar's Police Accountability Commission (PAC) chairperson K.L.Mahajan said that if the government gives more professional autonomy to the police, the people and society would benefit.
"Steps that would demoralise the police personnel should not be taken. With periodic orientation programmes and becoming technology friendly, policemen can be expected to deliver better services," he added.
Commonwealth Human Rights Initiatives (CHRI) director Maja Daruwala said : "Police is not a law enforcer, police is a law upholder. As with fire tenders or doctors, police must be available immediately as and when necessitated."
She said that police must enjoy the full public trust. "Democratic policing is the need of the hour; police should not be for protecting the regime only."
CHRI is a New Delhi based NGO working to protect human rights in the Commonwealth countries.
Assam PAC chairperson D.N.Chowdhury said that the police themselves lodge complaints of police misconduct in Britain for investigation by an independent Police Complaint Commission and similar bodies. "It is unimaginable in India," he added.
"On the contrary, what little has been done by PAC, the state government and the police department seems unhappy," said Chowdhury, a former judge of Guwahati High Court.
Tripura Advocate General Bijan Das said that as per the recommendations of various commissions, the police department must be divided into three - investigations, law and order and VIP security.
"As the police is overburdened with numerous tasks, investigations of various crimes and other wrong doings have suffered a lot, resulting in a low conviction rate in many states," said Das, a renowned legal expert of northeast India.
Kerala PAC chief K. P. Balachandran said that allowing the police to form an association, as had happened in the state, was a suicidal move. "Police association leaders dictate to the authorities about administrative matters, posting of officers and other issues," he added.
Tripura PAC chairperson Alok Baran Pal said that following Supreme Court directions, Tripura is the first state to enact the Tripura Police Act, to give legal recognition to the directives to kickstart the reform process.
"An external accountability mechanism for police is not acceptable to a section of the police leadership in most of the states where police reforms have been introduced," said Pal, a former judge of the Guwahati High Court.
"The argument is that police is a disciplined force with a strong internal accountability mechanism to handle police misconduct. When there is no such external body for other public functionaries like doctors, teachers, officers in civil administration why should such a parallel external mechanism exist for police?
"If police leadership does not accept external civilian oversight body but resists its recommendations or directions, the reforms will remain a distant dream. No law, guidelines or court's directions will change the system unless changes occur in the police mindset. The reform should, therefore, begin from the top of police leadership," Pal said.