22 September 2017 marks the 11nth anniversary of the Supreme Court directions (seven in total) to the central and state governments aimed at transforming policing into a professional, accountable and efficient service. 11 years on, the pace and direction of police reform presents a grim picture.
According to a CHRI report 18 states enacted new Police Acts and 11 issued executive orders, ostensibly to comply with the Supreme Court orders. But not a single one conforms to the directives that the court laid down. Many states have in fact taken the opportunity to ensure the police remain under the control of state governments and less accountable.
The report states that the seven directives provide practical mechanisms to kick-start reform. They put in place mechanisms to ensure political control of police by the political executive is conditioned and kept within its legitimate bounds; internal management systems are fair and transparent; policing efficiencies are increased in terms of their core functions and most importantly public complaints are addressed and police accountability enhanced.
CHRI reports States have either blatantly rejected or ignored the directives, or diluted significant features.
Majority states, for example, continue to vest the state governments with the sole discretion to appoint and transfer the Director General of Police instead of providing for selection from a panel of officers chosen by the UPSC.
The final decision on transfer and posting of posts such as the Superintendent of Police in charge of a district, or the Officer-in-Charge of a police station, continues to rest with state governments instead of with the police internal body, as envisaged by the court. This will continue to limit the ability of the police to stand up against illegal or irregular political orders.
The report further points out that States have also failed to abide by the independent checks and balances emphasised by the court. Where constituted, the State Security Commission, a bi-partisan body mandated to develop policy guidelines and conduct police evaluation, either fails to ensure adequate and meaningful representation of independent members and/or does not include leader of the opposition, thereby reducing it to a mere rubber stamp.
Many of the functional Police Complaints Authorities are designed to include serving police officers acting as judge in their own cause, thereby subverting the very objective of external oversight. Where functional, their effectiveness is constrained in the absence of independent investigators as well as support from the police department.
It states that the centre which administers policing in the Union Territories including the National Capital of Delhi should have led by example but instead has been a laggard in every way. It set up a Committee in 2005 under Soli Sorabjee that prepared a Model Police Act but successive central governments have ignored this Model completely. Delhi still does not have an independent Police Complaints Authority and its State Security Commission has barely met 4-5 times in five years.
CHRI report says the pattern of disobedience to the Supreme Court’s clear directives indicates a wilfull refusal to put the police on the path of reform, rather to keep it as a regime police in service of the regime in power rather than in service of the people and the law. It is no surprise that the police remain constantly cited for abuse of power, corruption, bias, custodial violence, criminal behavior, and inefficient performance. In the absence of public trust and cooperation the police will continue to be unable to provide the safety and security for the ordinary citizen.