India's Policing Woes

Agonizing over failure of police has assumed proportions of a national pastime in India. The local newspapers which focused on neighborhood crime had only limited influence. Audience accessibility of electronic vernacular media and its propensity to feed public emotion for commercial survival has however enlarged the space for criminal and anti social activities getting national lime light even in the remote hinterland. Bigger incidents as those in Dausa or Nithari capture the imagination of more authoritative elements of society such as the judiciary galvanizing the law and order machinery into action. The focus of this entire exercise is however restricted to the police.

The result is that the man in khaki from the constable to the higher echelons is getting the stick from the masses. Lack of accountability in vertical as well as horizontal hierarchy on the other hand has allowed the inefficient to survive the system and even prosper. This can only change if the focus is shifted from police to policing as a whole by undertaking systemic reforms.

The alterations are not far to seek, some processes are already underway, but given the pace of social change in modern societies, lack of urgency and a linear approach to adaptation, by the time of implementation these are likely be anachronous. As social conflict spreads in many forms, time has come to speed up the pace of reforms to improve credibility and provide the common man the succor that he needs from policing today rather than hope tomorrow.

In the larger context there is a need to review the organization of the Ministry of Home Affairs in the centre as well as the state. The quadrate model based on delineation of governance in the four quadrants of home, defence, external affairs and finance is no longer valid in today's context. Administering law and order with its many dimensions, social and diurnal policing, investigations, riot control, and counter terrorism at the state or national level is a complex function which cannot be carried out under a single head. A large proportion of functioning of the MHA is devoted to administrative matters far removed from policing. Reorganization of the MHA and its state satellites to divest hard policing from incongruent administrative functions is thus called for.

In the conceptual dimension too, there are many shortcomings. The prime one already identified is the Indian Police Act 1861. Smaller nations in the periphery as Bangladesh have completed a review and are issuing an ordinance replacing the colonial Act. Ironically in India despite injunctions from the Supreme Court not much progress is evident as action on the Model Police Act drafted by the Soli Sorabjee committee has fallen prey to dalliance between the centre and the states. In the conceptual sphere of operational policing, deficiencies in risk assessment are particularly noticeable. Terror events like all Black Swan, unexpected happenings follow power laws rather than the bell curve. Despite this, be it Malegaon or Mecca Masjid, the local police were surprised each time indicating that the concept is either not known or its application in local risk assessment was not carried out. An intersection of the day, location and intent would have clearly indicated vulnerability of places of worship on a Friday afternoon to the police but apparently no incident avoidance measures were in place.
Similarly at Dausa, an appropriate model of force application based on the demands-non acceptance-bandh-violence- appeasement cycle of the agitation would have resulted in better control over disruptive machinations of the striking community as well as the anti socials. If Bhainsala and Roop Singh are being charged so should be the police hierarchy for poor appreciation of upsurge of violence, preventive tactics as well as faulty force deployment.

Flowing from this is the need for training. The recent incident of police in a metropolitan force unable to fire personal arms should not come as a shocker, to many who know of the sloth that has set in the ranks. A random muster of practice firing carried out by police personnel would reveal that not just weapons but shooting skills have also gone rusty. The proverbial bane of long duty hours, extensive paper work and shortage of strength are no doubt impediments which hyphenate the culture of short term routine rather than building capabilities.

But restructuring police work should enable getting more boots on beat policing and training. Automation is a tool which can be effectively utilized for reducing on site paper work, waiting time in courts and stream lining police work. E-policing is a natural corollary of e-governance. Avoiding duplication is another measure. Vigilance departments in various public and private organizations can be empowered for initial FIR, which can be followed up once prima facie case has been established. 

These are just some of the issues to raise public awareness for expediting policing reforms. Social conflict is the paradigm of the future globally and is particularly evident in South Asian states. Efficient policing is the first line of defence in such a scenario. By addressing transformations at multiple inflection points, policing can be improved in real time. Lessons from progress in select facets of policing in metros shows that awareness and enforcement of rights by the public is essential to initiate change. Hopefully the critical mass of public opinion across the country will be build sooner than later before some of the conflicts today manifest into insurrections of the future.  


More by :  Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle

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