Police reforms must be expedited

Bidanda Chengappa | Updated on April 16, 2019

Vital for good governance   -  R Ragu

The Modi government’s record on external security is impressive, but it has been found wanting on internal security

In the run-up to the 2019 general elections national security has emerged as a major issue. Prime Minister Narendra Modi took a bold political decision to launch an aerial strike on Balakot, Pakistan and officially acknowledged the September 2016 ground-based surgical strike into Pakistan.

While earlier governments also launched ground-based surgical strikes but lacked the nerve to publicise them. These two military actions pertain to external security which the Modi regime has excelled at however, its track record on internal security remains woefully inadequate.

To strengthen only external security and ignore internal security proves inadequate for effective national security management.

On the internal security front, the lack of the Modi government’s political will to implement long-pending police and intelligence reforms amounts to a failure of good governance. Though the police department is a State subject, what prevented the government from implementing police reforms in the nine BJP-ruled States?

Interestingly Modi, during his stint as Gujarat Chief Minister had proclaimed the need for a separate Intelligence cadre. However as Prime Minister, he did not implement any concrete steps in this direction at the national level. The intelligence agencies continue to be helmed and staffed predominantly by police personnel and others on deputation from various government services.

Police and intelligence reforms are a necessary step towards improved internal security, considering that the rank and file of policemen across the country have their grievances with no effective redressal mechanism in place. For instance, in June 2016 the Karnataka Police planned a protest but was reined in by systemic checks and balances. The Haryana Police were unable to control law and order when godman Baba Ram Rahim was arrested in August 2017; besides, the February 2016 Jat agitation. Clearly that amounts to failure of the police machinery in the State.

Similarly, the Karnataka Police failed to control crowds in the state in April 2006 after the death of popular cine star Raj Kumar.

Today, the country is vulnerable to externally-fostered internal security threats wherein jihadi terrorists from Pakistan strike targets not only in the border States of Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab, Rajasthan and Gujarat — but also operate in the hinterland States like Karnataka or Tamil Nadu. This is evident from the 2006 terrorist attack at the Indian Institute of Science Bangalore or the bombs planted in Coimbatore during February 1998, prior to BJP leader LK Advani’s election meeting. Only the police and intelligence services can ensure strong internal security management.

The police however are hobbled by political interference and the police chain of command does not really function because the subordinate police officers cultivate MLAs and Ministers to intervene on their behalf particularly their postings to different appointments. In several cities, Station House Officers are transferred within a year or sometimes even before they get familiar with their jurisdictions. This hampers professional policing and investigations which is to the disadvantage of the common man.

Apex court direction

The Supreme Court directed the States to review the progress on police reforms in 2006 and cracked the whip on States which were reluctant to initiate reforms. There was some movement towards police reforms but thereafter everything was put on the back burner. In July 2018 the Supreme Court once again reviewed the progress of States and UTs on this front.

Police reforms include fixed tenures for Director Generals of Police (DGPs) and Superintendents of Police. Also, the DGPs should have a minimum residual service to ensure continuity and stability and avoid frequent leadership changes. Also 23 States have ignored guidelines on appointment of DGPs. As of today, 12 States have not implemented the separation of investigation and law and order wings.

Another aspect of police reform is linked to Intelligence reforms considering the police leadership helms the intelligence agencies of the country. Both the internal and external intelligence agencies are predominantly staffed with police officers and there have been several acts of omission and commission.

As much as the police as an institution requires reform to insulate it from political interference, the intelligence agencies too merit a review in terms of accountability, staffing and operations. Unlike the police whose performance is tangible, the intelligence agencies work remains invisible and away from public gaze.

Today, the threat of terrorism looms large. A robust internal security machinery is best suited to cope with this challenge. Reforms will help the state police forces and intelligence agencies to evolve into professional organisations and avoid future failures of law and order and more importantly, provide security oriented to the common man.

The writer is Professor of International Relations at Christ Deemed to be University, Bengaluru

Published on April 16, 2019

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