The Police often make headlines — mostly for wrong reasons. Currently, the police force in Delhi is under a cloud for its different approaches during violence in Jamia Millia Islamia, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and Aligarh Muslim University (AMU). It is alleged to be aggressive and overactive at one place while late and slow in the other.
Communal and caste linings do figure in police culture, particularly at the police station level, though higher ranks are not free from them either. But I found most policemen to be quite sympathetic to the cause of students. Recent happenings, therefore, are surprising and show that either Hindutva elements have made strong inroads into police forces or it is plain unprofessional policing. I strongly feel that it could be the former.
There have been debates on what ails the police. With the minuscule budget provided by states to police — less than four per cent of total state budget, we get what we deserve — an ill-trained and inadequately equipped person in uniform. A department, which is crucial for citizens and the nation, is starved of resources for training its members to be professional in investigations and responsive in handling law and order situation. Mere donning of khaki does not help.
After undergoing a grueling physical training in police academies, with hardly any knowledge of law, an officer on the streets is doing mindless bandobast duties, until one day he is asked to investigate a major crime or deal with violent and agitating crowds. Under the careful watch of the civil society, he tries to handle the situation, but fails.
Police everywhere in the country is highly politicised. There is no doubt about it. From Director General of Police to the SHO, all are selected men and women of the political party in power. To expect them to be unbiased and fair is asking for the moon. Barring exceptions, the cops take instructions from their political bosses and, many times, bend over backwards to please them.
Once, after the public function and speech by Balasaheb Thackeray during Dussehra celebrations at Shivaji Maidan in Mumbai, there was a riot in Chembur and Nehru Nagar areas. Some parts of the riot-hit area were under my zone and I noticed that policemen there just wouldn’t come out of their vans. Stone pelting and molotov cocktail had made them duck inside their vehicles with Shiv Sainiks mocking me to present ‘bangles to the policemen’.
In another instance, while controlling a riot outside DCC bank in Satara district, I found cops beating up people on the roads, even though the agitating crowd had dispersed after a lathi charge. The leader who had incited the crowd was from a distant district of Maharashtra and was a member of the ruling party. He thought he couldn’t be arrested as he was a former member of parliament (MP).
The then Chief minister called and advised me not to oppose the bail of the arrested ex-MP. But we did. Later, the Director-General called up and admonished me, saying I was not aware of the larger good that the Chief Minister was doing for the policemen. The DG was an honest man and known to be strict with political leaders across parties. His contention was that I was winning a battle, while he was trying to win a war for the police with the help of the Chief Minister who had increased the police budget and was doing a lot of work for the welfare of our department. The reality of police working thus isn’t all black-and-white, it’s different shades of grey.
Because of the close police-politician relationship, none of the states have implemented police Reforms as recommended by the Supreme Court. Some window-dressing and feigned movements towards it, notwithstanding. The Establishment Boards visualised in the reforms would make merit the basis of police postings, but all political parties are unanimously against it.
It’s not only the politicians who have exploited police, we as police officials have failed too. We have to insist on an increase in our manpower which is woefully less, compared to international standards (There are around 193 policemen which is much less than recommended 220 per lakh population). Data from the Bureau of Police Research and Development for last five years shows that the actual working strength of police force is less by about 20-25% because of vacant positions.
So, in reality, we end up having only around 150 policemen per lakh people. The expenditure on their training is less than 1.5% of the total police budget in states. Therefore, we have a police officer whose reactions are not balanced when faced with an aggressive crowd or while investigating a sensitive crime.
I had to deal with such unprofessional response many a time in my career. I am sure it is the same with my colleagues, though we generally defend our men and women in public. It is also a fact that the police department has the highest number of disciplinary actions against its staff for various defaults and misdemeanors.
Starved of resources, with hardly any training and now communal elements getting hold of law enforcement is a dangerous trend. It would further widen the gap between police and civilians. While the former feel that community remembers them only during the crisis and is always critical, citizens find police apathetic, rude and corrupt.
Politicians, however, ‘use’ them and would never like to loosen their hold on them. It is police leadership and the judicial system supervising law enforcement joining hands that can give us an independent, competent and professional police. It’s the citizen who must be consistent in taking an interest in the criminal justice system and claim police as its own. Only that will lead to an accountable and responsible police department, responsive to common citizens and not the VIPs.
(The writer is retired Director General, Bureau of Police Research and Development. Views expressed are personal.)