Some Excerpts from Dialogue
EXCERPTS FROM THE DIALOGUE ON POLICE REFORMS
Some Thought-Provoking Observations
Sitaram Yechury, General Secretary, Communist Party of India (Marxist)
Mr. Yechury emphasised that police reforms cannot be achieved without political and judicial reforms. As long as the tenure and stability of the police officers are controlled by the political masters, one cannot expect efficiency in policing. He was concerned about the extra-professional pressures put on police officers. He observed that India had a really low police-to-people ratio and that the police department is understaffed and ill-equipped. He concluded by emphasising on the need to look at the problems of policing in a holistic manner based on the ideals of the Indian Constitution.
Responding to a question on the role of the Indian Police in the era of more complex crimes like cyber-crimes, Mr. Yechury pointed out that not just was the police ill-equipped to deal with the more complex crimes witnessed today, we are also facing the problem of inadequate cyber laws. The communist leader raised the issue of the complexities associated with the questionable process of Aadhaar number allocation to the citizens. He also observed that India had a high number of states switching off internet services on the pretext of maintaining law and order and the whole issue needed to be debated seriously.
Jairam Ramesh, Indian National Congress
Mr. Ramesh recounted his experiences during the five-year period (between 2009 and 2014) when he was involved with the police administration in the states affected by left-wing extremism. He spoke about the dubious role played by the local police and forest administration in creating the problem that we are currently grappling with. He emphasised that the governments needed to be far more sensitive in dealing with these issues so that people are not alienated from the government and the civil administration.
Mr. Ramesh stressed on the need to build credibility by ensuring that the economic and social benefits reached the beneficiaries. In the few areas where the police had met with success, the key lay in the ability of the local police to gather intelligence for paramilitary forces and others to move ahead. He also said that it was very difficult for the civil administration to make the intended development interventions in the absence of a minimum critical mass of local police forces. In some places, they were one-third the optimal level!
Mr. Ramesh said that the police forces have failed to respect the tribal sentiments. He maintained that the state had an obligation to uphold the constitutional values and to be seen on the side of the weaker and the dispossessed. He also said that he was saddened to learn that many officers stationed in these areas considered human rights as middle class luxuries. He stated that a part of the problem could be a perception (whether true or not) that the state was as much a culprit in these violations as the Maoists themselves. He concluded that there must be autonomous professional functioning of the police administration and that this professionalisation needed to be institutionalised instead of trusting the good instincts of the individual officers or politicians. While it was important that the police system must not face interference by the politicians, he also maintained that the officers should look inwards to make sure that the police system is not colluding with the (corrupt) political system.
R.K. Singh, Union Minister,Bharatiya Janata Party
Mr. Singh emphasised that investigation was the most critical aspect of the justice system and thus it should not be compromised by politics. He mentioned that when he had visited Uttar Pradesh before elections, one of the major concerns of the then government was the restoration of law and order. A perception was prevalent that politicians and hooligans controlled the police, and therefore it was difficult to get FIRs lodged and get justice. He said that justice delivery mechanism must not be allowed to be hijacked by the anti-social elements. Therefore, criminal justice system should be insulated from politics, he added.
The union minister and a former home secretary suggested that one way of ensuring this would be by setting up of State Security Commissions to look into transfers and postings of police officers. However, that system failed, as making institutional changes were not sufficient in themselves. He cited an incident where the proposals of the state DGPs and IGPs were being dictated by the chief ministers. He said that there was a need to reform ourselves before reforming the system.
Mr. Singh further spoke about the need for a judicial oversight on investigations and also stressed on the necessity to professionalise this process. He suggested that the different functions of police be segregated based on expertise. He also recommended that other aspects of policing, such as checking encroachments, illegal structures and traffic violations, among others, be under the oversight of the elected government.
Mr. Singh said that in 2001, when he was the joint secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs, he had written a Cabinet note to start the police modernisation scheme with an annual expenditure of `1,000 Crore. However, no initiative was taken to raise the expenditure and no proposals were sent even after three years.
He brought up the issue of the poor housing conditions and tattered barracks of paramilitary personnel. Mr. Singh said that there was a deficiency of over five lakh police personnel across the country. He stressed upon the need for a complete autonomy with respect to investigations and the importance of judicial oversight in the transfers and postings of personnel.
Navniet Sekera, IGP, Uttar Pradesh Police
Mr Sekera made a presentation on '1090: Shakti Pari', a women's safety initiative under the aegis of Uttar Pradesh police.
While introducing the programme, he said that in 2012, with the assistance of IIM Lucknow, Lucknow University and several NGOs, about 10,000 women were interviewed over a period of six months under the Shakti Pari initiative to help the police understand the principle cause behind poor registration of crimes against women.
A major realisation during these interactions was that the women in our country are trained to ignore and tolerate the atrocities they face in their daily lives. It was pointed out that even during small fights at home, the female siblings were generally encouraged to reach a compromise with their male siblings. Hence, it is not a surprise that after 10-15 years of such training at home, women find themselves unable to stand up for themselves.
It was also observed that in almost 95 per cent of the cases of rape or molestation, the offender was known to the victim, indicating that a lot of these heinous incidents occur inside households and not only outside as is widely perceived. The foremost problem here is that women are encouraged to ignore such advances within households and in the event of sexual assault they are advised to keep quiet.
In the process of conducting the interviews, many recommendations and concerns were put forward. It was suggested that the identity of the complainant should not be revealed and that they should not be summoned to the police station as there was a huge taboo attached to it. Another recommendation was that their complaints be heard and investigated by women police officers. The biggest challenge for police in dealing with the sexual assault cases is to ensure that there is no repetition of the offence from the same offender.
In response to these recommendations and concerns, a system was developed by the U.P. Police with the help of multiple stakeholders. The first step was to listen, wherein the police personnel were sensitised to the problems faced by the women complainants. The second part of this project was to find a solution that would resolve the problems.
The third and perhaps the most important part of this project was to sustain the results. Sustaining is ensured by a robust feedback mechanism devised after resolving their specific issues. Feedback is requested at least four times in as many months to ensure that there has not been any recurrence of the problem. After this, a SMS-based feedback system continues for two-years to ensure that the solution has been sustained.
Mr. Sekera pointed out that unlike many earlier projects on gender sensitization, U.P. Police did not use the stereotypical image of 'helpless woman' as the face of their campaign. Instead, pictures of smiling and empowered women were projected. U.P. Police has named the project 'Women Powerline' instead of the more common term 'Women Helpline'. The slogan that was popularised throughout towns and villages of the state was 'Chuppi Todo, Khulkar Bolo' (Break the silence, tell fearlessly).
Sharing more details of the programme, he said that in the past four years, 8,10,499 cases had been registered. Of these, 8,00,534 cases had been solved, of which 7,92,666 were taken care of via phones without police-complainant interface. The offenders were counselled and warned that their details were available with the police. If they commited any further offence, a negative police verification would jeopardise their employment opportunities. This ensures a ready apology and no further commission of offence.
Mr. Sekera informed the audience that every call, whether outgoing or incoming, is recorded and kept with the Women Powerline (1090) office. In 7,156 cases, parents of the offender were made a part of the counselling process and were warned about the potential consequences of the offender's actions. In about 712 cases (0.01%) repeat offenses led to filing of FIRs. It was pointed out that almost 68 per cent of these offenders were above the age of 50 years. The complainants were not summoned to the police stations or court in any of these cases. When needed, it was ensured that the complainant was met at a place of her convenience. Before the project, the average number of complaints registered in Uttar Pradesh per year was less than 2,000 but it has been increasing rapidly since then. Upon extrapolation, it is predicted that the number of complaints registered would rise up to cross the mark of 5,00,000 per annum before they start taking a downward spiral.
Mr. Sekera emphasised that while there is a tendency to see this rise as an indicator of increase in crimes, the reality is that it is not the crimes that have increased but the opportunity to report them. He reiterated that the trend of increase in complaints is a positive sign because it leads to resolution of more cases. Almost 89 per cent of the complaints pertained to harassment on phones, seven per cent at public places, two per cent on social networks and almost two per cent at home.
Sanjay Beniwal, Special Police Commissioner, Delhi Police
Mr. Beniwal's presentation was on 'Digital Technology for Better Access to Police Services, Efficient Service Delivery and Governance'. It showcased various initiatives by the police in the national capital to digitalise and improve public access to police services.
He emphasised that one of the biggest misconceptions in the public mind is that the law and order situation had deteriorated due to the rising incidence of crime. This, he believes, was likely a manifestation of increased reporting and registration of crimes, but this ingrained misconception has adversely impacted the public service-delivery system, particularly to the poor and marginalised, he said.
Delhi Police has begun to explore the interplay of technology in increasing access to registration so that everyone can have access to the police redressal mechanism which is their right as citizens. Mr. Beniwal introduced the MV theft App, in which, when a vehicle is stolen, one does not have to go to the police station as the registration of the complaint can be done digitally via the app or the website. Once the investigations are complete, the cases go to the e-courts that decide on whether the case has been resolved and whether insurance can be claimed. The app was launched on April 16, 2015 and 89,419 cases have been registered as of August 31, 2017.
As opposed to the physical 'thanas' where many cases do not get resolved due to high pendency status, this platform has ensured that almost 95 per cent of such cases reach the trial stage, he said. Delhi Police has also launched a platform for Lost Report wherein 46,69,181 reports have been filed so far. A few other apps launched by the Delhi Police include the Property Theft Act, Police Clearance Certificate App, Character Verification Report App, Himmat App, Delhi Traffic Police App and Traffic Sentinel App. Mr. Beniwal informed the audience that there is a new proposal wherein digital platforms would be set up for employee verification and other facilities, so that the interactions between the police and the citizens happen as per the convenience of the citizens and not vice-versa.
O.P. Singh, Director General, CISF
Through his presentation on 'Building Excellence in Disaster Response, Recovery and National Resilience', Mr. Singh showed the means of creating awareness, engagement, and intervention for disaster response and explained the process of building resilience to disasters.
From his experience, Mr. Singh has highlighted three main aspects of disaster response:
Mr. Singh said that the NDRF studied management practices such as the use of incident response systems, use of technology and new processes developed after each disaster. In order to upgrade their skillset, NDRF partnered with leading national training institutes like AIIMS, Apex Trauma Centre, National Remote Sensing Centre and Institute of Nuclear Medicine and Applied Sciences, among others. By relying on innovative strategies, they also evolved methods to make expeditious procurement of resources. This was possible only by determining the operational priorities and by understanding the complexities of disaster environment.
Mr. Singh pointed out that NDRF was visibly engaged in humanitarian activities during the recent J&K floods where more than 50,000 people were evacuated. It was able to minimise the loss of lives and property during Cyclone Hudhud in Andhra Pradesh and Odisha through pre-deployment of forces. He informed the audience that NDRF was the first international team to reach Nepal during the 2015 earthquake and was able to save 11 lives in the first few days of the calamity. The NDRF team was able to save 468 human lives within a few hours in the flash-floods in Shohratgarh Tehsil in 2016, during a night operation.
N. Ramachandran, President, Indian Police Foundation (IPF)
Earlier, welcoming the guests, Mr. N. Ramachandran stressed upon the importance of setting up robust systems and processes in police that enhance efficiency, help in upholding integrity, deter misconduct and build public confidence in policing.
Citing data from a research undertaken by the Institute for Economics and Peace, Mr. Ramachandran informed the audience that in 2016, the cost of violence amounted to approximately eight per cent of India's GDP. This meant that the country lost $742 billion in fighting crime, violence and conflict. It was unfortunate that not even a miniscule amount was being used in strengthening the law and order machinery or modernising the police which could have prevented the conflicts. Crime, violence and conflict were a distraction and a huge strain on the economy of the country, he said.
Introducing the IPF, Mr. Ramachandran told the audience that the Foundation was inaugurated by Mr. Rajnath Singh, Union Home Minister, in November 2015. He recalled the historic judgment of the Supreme Court in Prakash Singh v. Union of India delivered on September 22, 2006. This judgement envisaged two broad streams of roles and responsibilities between the political and police leaderships. The former was supposed to look after the democratic oversight mechanisms, articulate policy, prescribe performance standards and monitor performance.
The latter group, that of the senior police officers, have the responsibility of providing enlightened leadership and strong internal governance i.e. a leadership that will help in leveraging technology, forensics, standardisation of service delivery to people, ensuring transparency and enforcing accountability. He suggested that the police leadership should have the exclusive responsibility of delivering unbiased, responsive and lawful policing. The much-needed reforms will not go far unless an institutional capacity is developed with support from political leadership.
Vipul Mudgal, Director, Common Cause
Dr. Mudgal introduced Common Cause to the audience as an organisation that works for the Rule of Law. He said that the PILs on coal block allocations and 2G spectrum, which changed the way natural resources are allocated in India, were filed by Common Cause. The orders in these petitions led to the cancellation of 214 of such coal block allocations and revocation of 122 telecom licenses. As a consequence, no government can now gift away natural resources to their cronies.
He mentioned another case which was taken up in the interest of 'common cause'. This petition challenged the constitutional validity of Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, and was struck down as unconstitutional. The order succeeded in restoring the freedom of expression on the internet. Common Cause has played an important role in drafting the Model Police Act and was also one of the co-petitioners in the landmark case of Prakash Singh v. Union of India, 2006.
Dr. Mudgal informed the audience that Common Cause has partnered with Centre for Studies of Developing Societies (CSDS) on a project that attempts to develop a 'Performance-cum-Perception Index' on policing in India. One finding of this study is that a large number of people want a system where they can register complaints against police persons.
Manoj Mitta, Senior Journalist
Mr. Mitta spoke on the impact of the 2006 judgement on police reforms and how many states have ignored, while others have taken grudging and half-hearted steps to implement, the orders of the court. He pointed at the recent incidents of violence involving cow vigilantism which showed high levels of inefficiency and political interference in policing. He cited the examples of the violence that took place after the court judgement on self-styled baba Gurmeet Singh despite the High Court's intervention, or of the unfortunate death of a journalist in Kerala who was killed by a mob when trying to cover an event. The police were accused of not intervening until the journalist was fatally injured. Mr. Mitta urged the speakers to talk about such incidents and how they could be avoided.