Wednesday, June 11, 2014

An actionable agenda for police reforms

On June 9, the President addressed both Houses of Parliament after the recent elections to the 16th Lok Sabha. In his address, he declared zero tolerance for violence against women saying the government was committed to strengthening the criminal justice system. Later in the address, the President committed his government to reforming the criminal justice system so that dispensation of justice became simpler, quicker and more effective.
Following the presidential address, an interdisciplinary group got together to propose reforms to police and criminal justice. It has prepared an 11-point agenda for the Central and state governments and the Indian citizens. The agenda is meant to be actionable as well as a starting point for a national discussion.
1. Repeal the 1861 Police Act and replace it with the updated Model Police Act of 2006 drafted by the Soli Sorabjee Committee.
2. Address burning issues pertaining to the constabulary, especially issues of recruitment, health and training.
3. Implement the Supreme Court judgment of 2006 delivered by the then Chief Justice of India YK Sabharwal.
4. Strengthen police stations, especially their capability, capacity and liveability.
5. Embrace technology and ensure time-bound implementation of Crime Criminal Tracking Network System as well as pending schemes such as the one pertaining to creating a database of all missing children.
6. Adopt integrated citizen information systems such as text messaging, social media and police community radio stations, allocating the police two national frequencies -one for states and one for the central agencies.
7. Legislate charter and give statutory basis to all investigation and intelligence services such as the CBI, IB and RAW that are deemed to be on a weak legal footing.
8. Conduct an annual audit of our police systems both by the comptroller and auditor general and academic institutions such as law, technology and management schools besides universities.
9. Involve panchayats in policing by expanding the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act scheme to incorporate security duties at the village level and student cadet service in urban areas. Furthermore, panchayats must record any migration from or to the village as well as report potential human trafficking.
10. Start CCTV surveillance on all national highways with centralised command and control systems.
11. Reform criminal justice through formation of an Indian Judicial Service with civil and criminal tracks, a national prosecution service with the same two tracks and the provision that one prosecutor handles a case from start to finish. Implement time-bound processes for court procedures and bring about transparency and accountability.
The British designed the police to be an instrument of oppression. Unlike their indigenous policing systems that had close ties with the community, the police in India was the handmaiden of the heaven-born Indian Civil Service (ICS), forerunners to the modern Indian Administrative Service.
The job of the ICS was revenue maximisation for the British Empire with as little expenditure on the police. The native constabulary was treated horrendously, starved of resources and expected to live off the land. The gora sahib might have left in 1947 but his system lives on.
The imperial system of policing in India is no longer working. The Bureau of Police Research and Development found in 2012 that barely 1.64% of the police budget is spent on training our constables. The population per policeman is supposed to be 568, but it is 761, making India a policing nightmare because of the extreme paucity of policemen, the pathetic quality of their training and the perverse deployment of scarce resources to provide security to a large population.
In many parts of the country, the proverbial constable Ram Lal is writing the general diary, carrying out investigation, breaking up dharnas, providing security for VIP visits and doing whatever the district administration wants. Ram Lal often does not have resources to do patrolling.
They might be operating out of a police station in a crumbling building with inhuman sanitary conditions. They operate by raising resources from the local population and their senior figures judge them as per the crime figures they report. It is little wonder then that registering a first information report is almost impossible. Even if Ram Lal were to do a superhuman job and finish an odd investigation, there is no lawyer to press the prosecution in court. The courts themselves take decades to hear arguments. In summary, the system of the gora sahib is broken.
Following the Presidential address, seven of us sat down together the very next day and penned down the ElevenPoint Agenda that we are sharing with the country. A lot of what we say has been said by the Supreme Court and numerous commissions. Now is the time for action.
First, we propose repealing of the Indian Police Act of 1861. A committee led by noted jurist Soli Sorabjee has drafted the Model Police Act of 2006 that is progressive, democratic and accountable.
Chapter 13 of the proposed Act deals with police accountability and Chapter 2 sets term limits for police officers. It has a number of decent provisions and we could start with updating and adopting this as our new police act.
Second, we propose to focus on our constabulary, the proverbial Ram Lals. They are our own people and do a brutal job. We have to ensure that we recruit them properly, train them well and keep them healthy if we want a semblance of rule of law. Third, we suggest that both central and state governments adopt the 1996 landmark judgment delivered by the then Chief Justice of India YK Sabharwal.
We propose other commonsense measures such as using technology to connect with citizens, whether it is radio or text messages. We believe it is high time our Parliament drafted laws defining the charter and giving clear statutory basis to institutions such as the IB, RAW and CBI. We want panchayats involved and annual audits of policing.
Finally, we want an Indian Judicial Service and a national prosecution service that expedite cases in efficient and transparent courts. As the adage goes, justice delayed is justice denied. So, let us get started and inaugurate an era of justice or a nyayaraj in our ancient civilisation.

(Kiran Bedi is the first woman IPS officer, Atul Singh is an Oxford scholar and an ex-IAS officer, and Rishi Rai and Manu Sharma are technology entrepreneurs. Views expressed their personal)