Judicial / Police Reforms
“Public pressure needed to implement police reforms”
Members of civil society organisations came together on Thursday to urge the State government to make amendments to the Tamil Nadu Police Reforms Ordinance 2013, to secure an efficient criminal justice system.
Human rights activists demanded a slew of reforms, such as upgradation of professional competence of police personnel, improvement of working conditions, accountability mechanism for performance and conduct and professional autonomy for police at a conference jointly organised by People’s watch, CCJAT, HRF and CHRI on Tamil Nadu police reforms.
In his address, Kamal Kumar, retired Director, National Police Academy, said the police should be conscious of accountability and never be influenced. “Absence of public pressure was a major reason for the indifference towards police reforms. The public must assert themselves and ensure that the reforms are implemented,” he said.
It may be recalled that the previous DMK government introduced a bill on police reforms in the Assembly in 2008. It was referred to a select committee but it lapsed at the end of the Assembly’s tenure in 2011. Terming the current ordinance as hasty, Ossie Fernandes, Director of Human Rights Advocacy and Research Foundation, said the State government had failed to follow the norms laid down by the Supreme Court. He wanted the government to incorporate the Supreme Court’s suggestions while replacing the law.
Even as representatives of NGOs laid stress on autonomy for police, V.R. Lakshmi Narayanan, former DGP of Tamil Nadu said, “Autonomy is not the issue. Earlier, the police were accountable and were allowed to function as per the law, without being influenced. But today, there is interference in police functioning.”
Fiat on police reforms still remains on paper
Though seven years have passed since the Supreme Court delivered a landmark judgment, most of the States have not complied with many of its directions to bring about police reforms.
Some States enacted laws and implemented the directions in part, prompting the court early this year to once again remind all of them of the need for compliance. The matter is still pending.
In its September 22, 2006 verdict in the Prakash Singh vs. Union of India case, the court sought to achieve two main objectives: functional autonomy for the police through security of tenure, streamlined appointment and transfer processes and creation of a “buffer body” between the police and the government; and enhanced police accountability, both for organisational performance and individual misconduct.
The seven directions were: 1 a) Constitute a State Security Commission to ensure that the State government does not exercise unwarranted influence or pressure on the police;
b) Lay down broad policy guidelines and c) evaluate the performance of the State police.
2. Ensure that the DGP is appointed through a merit-based, transparent process and secure a minimum tenure of two years.
3. Ensure that other officers on operational duties (including SPs and Station House officers) are also provided a minimum two-year tenure.
4. Separate investigation, and law and order functions.
5. Set up a Police Establishment Board to decide transfers, postings, promotions and other service related matters of officers of and below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police and make recommendations on postings and transfers above the rank of DSP.
6. Set up a Police Complaints Authority at the State level to inquire into public complaints against officers of and above the rank of DSP in cases of serious misconduct including custodial death, grievous hurt, or rape in police custody, and at district levels to inquire into complaints against personnel below the rank of DSP in cases of serious misconduct.
7. Set up a National Security Commission at the Union level to prepare a panel for selection and placement of chiefs of the central police organisations with a minimum tenure of two years.
Police reforms must achieve desired result
The National Police Service is in the news again. Thankfully, this time around, it is for all the right reasons especially news over the weekend that the process of vetting the suitability of officers at the summit of police management had seen off three casualties. Naturally, the three officers have the right to appeal the findings of the vetting team, which will this week embark on further interviews to weed out the rotten apples and hopefully redeem the tarnished reputation of our police. Policing is a vital aspect of any civilised, progressive and modern society. How police officers perform their role determines to a great extent the level social cohesion and quality of life for the citizens. It is by no accident therefore that what we previously referred to as the Kenya Police Force has been transformed — at least in name for now — to the National Police Service. As the change of name suggests, it is no longer an all-powerful tool of suppression, but one geared at serving the people. Successive governments inherited a force structure drawn up by the British colonialists, which was largely meant to suppress any dissent. The independence leaders then found the force a useful tool to muffle any political opposition and consolidate their grip on power. In the meantime, the leadership of the police found itself too much at the whims of the political elite, especially the presidency. The force had no freedom or even impetus to become professional. When told to jump, it only had to ask the powers-that-be, how high. This and other factors such as poor pay, tough working conditions and lack of proper equipment to tackle crime created a highly demoralised lot. The police officers’ housing was and is still nothing to write home about. Indeed, many live in dehumanising conditions. Promotions were based largely on patronage and merit was never recognised. In some cases, we have had stories of brave officers killed or hunted down like criminals by rogue elements in the force. This state of affairs exposed the force to widespread corruption. From the traffic police officer on the road to the ones patrolling streets and the ones manning police stations, they became the bribe-taking officers. In their work, they harassed and harangued citizens, looking for a chance to be bribed. In the process, many officers became overnight millionaires. Soon every young man or woman daring enough, but most probably failed in national examinations, wanted to become a police officer. It was seen as an easy route to riches. Friday’s marching orders for three senior officers following a public vetting process, is an important if symbolic change. Mr Peter Eregae, Mr Francis Okonya and Mr Jonathan Koskei had come under close questioning over their wealth. It is truly a long way on the road to reform that began in 2003, when President Kibaki announced a reform programme to professionalise the force. The Narc government even toyed with community policing. But the reforms achieved little as the regime, especially after the bungled 2007 president election, used the force to sustain its hold on power. The 2010 Constitution is however remedying this by reducing political manipulation of the police service and enhancing accountability in the police officers. Still, political goodwill is needed to create an efficient police service. That is where the Jubilee government must provide sound leadership on police reforms.