On 6th December 2019, the Hyderabad police killed four boys accused of rape and murder of a veterinary doctor in an encounter operation. As per the Police reports, the suspects tried to escape by snatching the pistols and began firing indiscriminately. In retaliation, the police shot down all four of them. The case became hugely sensational, with many appreciating the police for delivering justice quickly. After three years, a three-member enquiry commission has now revealed that the firing by the police personnel was deliberate. Commenting that there were numerous discrepancies in the police report, the commission stated, “accused were deliberately fired upon with an intent to cause their death.”
Such fake encounters have brought to light the unfortunate failure of the police institution that should otherwise ensure stability and economic development. Vexed by the present state of law and order, the public believes in the righteousness of ‘instant justice’. However, it is imperative to reform the institution of police and to do that, we must step back and analyse the root causes plaguing our police force instead of commending such quick and often illegitimate encounters.
One of the primary causes that are dodging the police force in India is the lack of adequate personnel. According to the most recent available data from 2017, there is a staggering 30% vacancy in the police force. The representation of SCs, STs, OBCs, and women in the police force is particularly inadequate, with several vacancies in reserved jobs. In UP and Haryana, the reserved jobs for SCs had 60% and 53% vacancies, respectively, which is significantly higher than the overall vacancies in both states.
As a result, the existing police officers are overworked. On average, a police officer works14 hours per day, seven days a week. These excessive work hours are tied closely to the state's inability to fill the police force's sanctioned strength, which impairs its efficiency. As a result, police officers endure high levels of physical and mental fatigue among officers in our country.
Moreover, most police stations do not have adequate resources or infrastructure. A Report reveals that there are still stations without access to computers, vehicles, or even telephones. Even basic facilities such as drinking water and clean toilets are lacking in many stations. Furthermore, it has been revealed that many officers do not get adequate training to perform their duties. Only 6.4 per cent of the total police force has received in-service training. This directly translates to the inadequate training in infrastructural upgradation provided by the states. For example, the police training expenditure stood at Rs. 885.5 crores, just about 1% of the total expenditure. Hence, as a result of insufficient resources and understaffing, it is no surprise that the police force appears bitter, exasperated, or fatigued.
It’s Reform Time
To reform the police force, we need to return to the basics. First and foremost, the police laws in India that continue to echo the British-era Indian Police Act of 1861 or the Model Police Act of 2006 without any regard for the present circumstances need to be amended. For example, Section 22 of IPA states that:
“Every police- officer shall, for all purposes in this Act contained, be considered to be always on duty, and may at any time be employed as a police officer – officer in any part of the general police – district.”
The phrase "always on duty" has given police officers the authority to arbitrarily extend their working hours to the convenience of their superiors. This needs to be revised by enforcing an 8-hour duty for all officers. However, these proposed changes will only be effective if the government fills the vacancies accordingly. One way to increase the workforce is through inducting more women personnel, which currently accounts for a dismal 7.28%. Gender prejudice exists against women with some assuming that policewomen are less industrious and efficient and that they should focus on internal jobs such as managing registers and data. A more diverse representation of women will not only instil gender sensitivity but would also improve overall performance and the police-community relationship.
It is ironic to call India the ‘hub of IT services’ and not provide better amenities to the police force. Thus, upgrading infrastructure to fight the increasing levels of cybercrime becomes crucial. For example, providing a Professional Mobile Radio Network (PMR) is cardinal. A rapid and effective communication mechanism to help the officers is essential during large-scale communal violence. Moreover, the law which prevents the use of handcuffs on prisoners under trial could be modified/ repealed as handcuffs play an important role in restraining the movement of the accused.
But perhaps the most significant reform that needs to be carried out is ensuring the autonomy of the police force. The Supreme Court even recognized this in the Prakash Singh vs Union of India case in 2006, which said the police should separate their law enforcement and investigation functions. Consequently, by providing the police greater operational independence/autonomy, we can improve the effectiveness of the police force and overcome the challenges previously mentioned.
For example, to safeguard police officials who come under pressure to serve the interests of the political parties in power, a board could be formed that would have the authority to control the influence of the State Government on the Police Department. Furthermore, to prevent favouritism and the abuse of transfer by politicians, a minimum tenure requirement of at least two to three years could be put in place. The said recommendation becomes critical when we consider that 12% of all-India officers have been transferred in less than two years, particularly during election years. Finally, a committee could be set up to enforce internal policies and laws within the department to monitor transfers and promotions and validate them.
Now or Never
The police are one of the most important institutions in a democratic state. They perform various tasks ranging from defending the law and constitutional freedoms by protecting people's lives and property to ensuring social harmony. The police also represent the most recognizable face of the state, and a police station is always a citizen's initial point of contact in a crisis. Although reforming an entire institution, particularly one as fundamental as the police, will be difficult without adequate political will, we must realize that our criminal justice system cannot remain obsolete. This causes people to lose their trust in it and clamour for ‘instant justice’. Being the largest democracy and an aspiring global power, India must take efforts to revamp the police system to make it efficient again.
(Written by Sashank Rajaram and Edited by Prakhar Singhania)