Cover

It’s a cop-out

Payel Majumdar Upreti | Updated on January 10, 2018 Published on September 08, 2017
Arrested development: Funds earmarked for the modernisation of police infrastructure are typically underutilised, forcing the lawkeepers to function under poor workplace conditions. Photo: Yogesh Mhatre

Arrested development: Funds earmarked for the modernisation of police infrastructure are typically underutilised, forcing the lawkeepers to function under poor workplace conditions. Photo: Yogesh Mhatre

Standing orders: In the absence of defined duty hours, many policemen work long hours and often use the police station as a makeshift resting place. Photo: Shanker Chakravarty

Standing orders: In the absence of defined duty hours, many policemen work long hours and often use the police station as a makeshift resting place. Photo: Shanker Chakravarty   -  The Hindu

Distress signal: Female traffic police are forced to work without toilet breaks, and routinely face sexual harassment on the road and discrimination at work. Photo: S Siva Saravanan

Distress signal: Female traffic police are forced to work without toilet breaks, and routinely face sexual harassment on the road and discrimination at work. Photo: S Siva Saravanan   -  The Hindu

Measure up: Expert panels have recommended Std XII or graduation as minimum qualification for recruitment of constables and training in soft skills for the entire force, as it deals directly with the public. Photo: K V Srinivasan

Measure up: Expert panels have recommended Std XII or graduation as minimum qualification for recruitment of constables and training in soft skills for the entire force, as it deals directly with the public. Photo: K V Srinivasan   -  The Hindu

Even after 70 years of independence, the police force’s prowess and fortunes hang by a colonial relic of a law. The deadline for reforms is long past

“I used to be a boy scout in school,” the station house officer, or SHO, of an east Delhi police station tells me. “And a successful one, too. I was selected to represent India at an international convention of boy scouts when I was pursuing mechanical engineering in college. I would say I’m passionate about this [police] job and, therefore, I’m sticking to it.”

There’s definitely a ‘but’ hanging in the air after that...

The SHO was transferred to this station recently. He is proud of the work he’s done so far. He brings out a photo album filled with a series of ‘before’ and ‘after’ photographs, a testimony to his efforts to improve the station’s infrastructure. Flower pots have appeared everywhere. An adjoining area given over to lost or stolen bikes and cars has been partially cleared and cordoned off. A canteen is being set up in the cleared space and a temporary log structure built for it. The SHO even plans to add floor lights for extra ambience: the idea is to ensure the place doesn’t look formidable anymore. The Delhi police’s red-and-blue colours are everywhere in this freshly whitewashed station. The investigating officer’s room has been spruced up and air-conditioners installed, as the tin roofs make it unbearably hot in here in the summer. Contractors mill around the SHO with their designs for a waiting room.

“Nahi, ped nahi kaat sakte,” he tells them firmly, refusing their suggestion to trim a tree to make space. “Every constable or inspector, on an average, spends 15-18 hours in this police station. I spend most of my days living here,” he says, pointing to an adjacent room, which serves as his office. “Do we or do we not deserve more facilities to carry out our duties better?” he asks. His efforts are visible to everybody, and more so to his peers, who are grateful to have a workspace sheltered from heat and away from rubbish dumps.

Women in uniform

It is 5 pm, and the station is quiet. The beat constables are on their rounds, while the investigating officers are out on duty. I enquire about the station’s lock-up, only to end up touching a raw nerve. “This is a temporary police station, like many others in Delhi. We have no lock-up, so we travel to the nearest permanent thana to put a person in custody and also deploy two of our men there.” Staff shortage is a challenge the SHO battles on a day-to-day basis.

One of the beat constables shows me the daily roster. According to Central guidelines, the recommended strength for this thana is 137 police officers (India’s sanctioned strength per lakh population is 142). It is 37 at present, including 12 women officers. The UN recommends 222 policemen per lakh population at minimum, but India falls woefully short. “The police is constantly running training programmes to keep officers up-to-date, especially with cybercrime on the rise. How are the police supposed to do their regular work?” asks inspector Naveen Kumar.

The station’s women staff appear relatively more relaxed. “Hours are not different for male and female constables on paper, but this is India. As a woman constable, I feel I have a more understanding staff here, but that isn’t the case across the police force,” says sub-inspector Shubhangi. “Work can entail staying back longer than usual, sometimes well into the wee hours. But I don’t feel scared travelling on my own late at night whenever I wear the uniform. It makes me feel so much more capable and confident.” She finds enough excitement in her job to keep her hooked. Two weeks ago she solved a revenge crime involving two business partners, one of whom had tried to frame the other out of jealousy.

Women constables, however, do not always enjoy the best of working conditions, and this is worsened by a lack of gender-sensitive workplace policies. According to a Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative report in 2014, despite the Union government’s guidelines mandating toilets for staff and crèches for their children in every police station, a majority of them had no crèches. Toilets, though widely available, weren’t maintained properly. At the east Delhi station I visited, spanking new toilets have been built but no maintenance staff has been sanctioned as of yet. Work conditions are far worse for women constables in the traffic police department; the report found instances of female traffic police going without water for the entire duration of their duty hours to avoid having to go to the toilet. They also regularly faced sexual harassment on the roads and were held to different standards from the men when it came to promotions and postings — typically they had to try twice as hard to prove their worth, the report stated.

No money for policing

Spending on the police force accounts for only around three per cent of Central and State budgets. According to a comptroller and auditor general (CAG) report in 2015, the weaponry of State police forces was found to be inadequate as well as outdated. In Rajasthan, it found that only 25 per cent of the State’s requirement of modern weaponry had been met. And where acquired, nearly 59 per cent of the weapons remained underutilised as they had not been distributed to police stations. Similar audits in West Bengal and Gujarat found weaponry shortages of 71 per cent and 36 per cent, respectively.

Many of the State police forces grapple with long hours and less pay owing to staff shortages and budget constraints. The Bureau of Police Research and Development has flagged a 30.5 per cent shortage of vehicles for the police forces. “We are frequently forced to ask for private vehicles. The process of refunding our money is tedious, and we often end up not putting in a request. There are many miscellaneous expenses for which it is difficult to produce bills. For instance, the guy who moves a body from the hearse won’t do it until you give him some money. We can’t reimburse our force for months, but expect them to be diligent every day,” rues the SHO.

Funds earmarked for the modernisation of infrastructure are typically underutilised — in 2015-16, for instance, the States used only 14 per cent of the allocated funds. Meanwhile, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), cognisable offences (such as murder and rape) have increased by nearly 28 per cent during 2005-15. Cases of cheating, alcohol-related crimes, crimes against women, and kidnapping have increased in number. Says the SHO, “Cheating cases have become more common than ever. Most of the cases registered in this police station are related to cheating.”

There has been no let-up in non-cognisable offences either. “These are often related to a family feud, or something as simple as a neighbour’s air conditioner dripping on the other person’s terrace. If we don’t go, the next day they might be at each other’s throats.”

Police is a State subject, so each State maintains and manages its own force. However, there are seven Central government forces and some specialised forces for investigation and research, including the CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force), SSB (Sashastra Seema Bal), Assam Rifles, Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), Border Security Force (BSF), Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and National Security Guard (NSG). According to a recent report on police reforms, ₹77,487 crore in 2015-16 (or three per cent of cumulative State budgets) was spent on State police forces (excluding Union territories) towards salaries, weaponry, housing and transport. The report also mentions that this expenditure on modernising the police force has been fluctuating annually, from four per cent in 2012-13 to 30 per cent in 2009-10.

While officers are at the top of the State police hierarchy, followed by upper subordinates, it is the lower subordinates and constabulary at the bottom who form the bulk of the force. Constituting 86 per cent of the force, the constables often get promoted just once in their lifetime and become head constables. They and the sub-inspectors and deputy superintendents of police (SPs) are recruited by the State, while the Central government recruits IPS (Indian Police Service) officers to the rank of additional SPs.

At the Rashtrapati Bhavan thana near the President’s official residence in Delhi, clothes hang on lines as their owners complete backbreaking shifts. In the absence of clear-cut duty hours, the police station frequently turns into a makeshift resting place for the staff. “There isn’t any time to go home, really,” says constable Narendar, as he readies himself for morning duty. “Would I say I’m sticking to this job because I like it? It’s not like I could have become a chartered accountant, or a lawyer, or gone into the IT industry... I’m just fine here,” he says resignedly.

The punching bag

Even after 70 years of Independence, the British-enacted Indian Police Act of 1861 remains the go-to law. Since 1977, seven bodies have sat down to inspect police reforms over the years. The National Police Commission set up in 1977-81 had suggested that superintendence should be defined by law, to exclude instructions that interfere with the law, operational decisions, or transfers and recruitments. A public interest litigation filed by Prakash Singh, a former director general of police (DGP) of Uttar Pradesh and Assam, as well as deputy general of BSF, had led to the commission’s creation to look into police reforms.

Apart from long hours, the police is increasingly at the receiving end of public anger, as happened recently during the riots that erupted in Haryana’s Panchkula after the conviction of godman Gurmeet Singh for rape.

In March this year, the then Chief Justice of India, JS Khehar, had declined a PIL plea for the immediate implementation of police reforms. He had then said, “Police reforms are going on and on. Nobody listens to our orders.” The Supreme Court had issued instructions in 2006, as no law had been brought in to address the matter. Its directives for police reforms include the formation of a security commission in each State. Though State governments did subsequently bring in legislations, these haven’t been effective overall. Former CBI director RK Raghavan recently wrote in The Hindu that these State laws have, in fact, tried to skirt around the directives. For instance, while all deputy inspector generals of police have a minimum two-year tenure on paper, many have received marching orders earlier, on some pretext or the other, and no one has complained.

In Haryana, a committee for police reforms was formed early this year, but following the rioting in the wake of Singh’s conviction last month, the Haryana High Court came down severely on the administration, stating, “It was political surrender just to lure the vote bank.”

Earlier, in 2014, the Jat agitation had led to loss of lives, violence on the highway, and mass molestation and rapes of women.

The Tamil Nadu government introduced the Police Reforms Ordinance in 2013, when its Assembly was not in session, but legal experts have panned it as it doesn’t free the police administration from political control. The recommendations of its State Service Commission, brought about by the SC’s directives, would merely end up being tabled annually in the Assembly, leaving it toothless on the ground.

The UP, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh governments had pleaded with the SC that its directives encroached into the powers of the executive. The UP government formed its State Service Commission only in 2010, after the State secretary was summoned by the court to explain the delay. Till date, the commission exists only on paper, and UP has not passed any legislation for police reforms.

Even the recruitment of constables is riddled with problems. The Padmanabhaiah Committee and the Second Administrative Reforms Commission (SARC) have observed that the entry-level qualifications (Std X or Std XII in many States) and the subsequent training have been inadequate. The recommendations include Std XII or graduation as minimum qualification, and training in soft skills (communication, counselling and leadership) for the entire force, as it deals directly with the public.

The SARC further called for improved working conditions and promotion opportunities for constables. Similar to practices in the Indian army, superiors sometimes employ constables for domestic chores, which not only impacts morale but also hijacks them from core policing. The commission recommended abolition of the orderly system. Even politicians have been guilty of misusing the police force. UP legislator Azam Khan once deployed a large posse of police, including detectives and sniffer dogs, to find out who had stolen buffaloes from his private residence.

Reports of police irregularities in conflict zones such as Bastar and Kashmir are reported and dismissed daily. A police force under the thumb of the executive that is callous about its independence and interferes with its core work cannot really be blamed for its overall inefficiency. The State is equally complicit in this. As we go to press, senior journalist and activist Gauri Lankesh, who ran a Kannada weekly and was outspoken against communalism, was shot dead at her Bengaluru residence. Her killing is starkly similar to the assassinations of activists Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and MM Kalburgi in the recent past. As their murders await impartial investigations and justice, it appears that the killers have been emboldened by a general atmosphere of lawlessness and the State that believes in policing its citizens. Add to that organisational roadblocks and lack of resources, and the urgency for reforms becomes clear. After all, who is going to police the police, or do we accept the status quo of a society where there’s no justice unless you’re in power?

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Published on September 08, 2017
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