Police reform can be defined as the aim to transform the values, culture, policies, and practices of police organizations so that the police can perform their duties with respect for democratic values, human rights, and the law of the land. It also aims to improve how the police interact with other parts of the security sector, such as the courts and departments of corrections, or executive, parliamentary or independent authorities with management or oversight responsibilities.
It is a vastly complex system of institutions and agencies across the political spectrum of a country that shares a narrative of police that requires total respect but occasional tinkering. Police reforms have been on the agenda of the Central Government almost since independence but even after 74 years of independence, the police are seen as selectively efficient, unsympathetic to the underprivileged. The flaws in the system cannot be denied as there is rampant corruption, politicization, and criminalization.
The primary framework for policing in India was made way back in 1861, with little changes thereafter, while the rest of the society in all aspects has undergone dramatic changes. The public expectations from police have largely multiplied over the years and newer forms of crime have surfaced, for example - cybercrime. There is a dire need for the policing system to be reformed to be in tune with present-day scenarios and to be upgraded to effectively deal with crime and criminals, uphold human rights and safeguard the legitimate interests of one and all.
The Former Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh, at one of the conferences of Chief Ministers on internal security, stated the following almost 9 years ago, “Serious internal security challenges remain. Threats from terrorism, left-wing extremism, religious fundamentalism, and ethnic violence persist in our country. These challenges demand constant vigilance on our part. They need to be tackled firmly but with sensitivity.” Several years have since passed, even a new government has been in power, but the internal security of the country is still threatened by internal as well as external forces.
In more recent events, The Bihar government passed a bill (Bihar Special Armed Police Bill, 2021) and under this new bill, the name of Bihar Military Police (BMP), which has 21 battalions, has been changed to Bihar Special Armed Police and grant it powers of the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF). This means the police can search and arrest without seeking a warrant from the court or the magistrate (Section 7 of the Bill). The primary controversy over this bill is that the Opposition has termed the Bill “draconian and unconstitutional” and an attempt by the government to enforce “Police Raj” in the State.
The first woman to head Mumbai’s Crime Branch, retired IPS officer Meeran Chadha states in a recent interview that, “In the current scenario, if you are close to the ruling party (and this is applicable to all political parties and all states) and ready to work at their behest you will get a plum posting of your choice. Merit and honesty are not the criteria anymore. There has been a sharp decline in the integrity scale since the late 1980s. And it has indeed very adversely affected police professionalism.”
This brings us to the question: Why do we need police development?
The reasons are as listed below:
Colonial Law: Even post-independence, our police system is based on colonial law. This is highly problematic as the British used police at times as instruments to suppress public discourse and the voice of the people and propagate their personal agendas. At present, whichever party comes to power does the same, which means that political patronage and pressure remain the crux of police dysfunctionality.
2. Custodial Death: There have been several cases of custodial death which means the death of a person due to any form of torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment by the police officers, whether it occurs during investigation, interrogation, or otherwise. During 1996-1997 in the D.K. Basu judgment, The Supreme Court issued a guideline against custodial death in India.
3. Law on Torture: Here’s an interesting fact - India has only signed the “United Nation Convention on torture” but is yet to pass it by the Parliament. Under the National legislations, “Indian penal code 1890” & under “Sections 330 & 348” - police brutality makes the act considered as torture as penal, with 7 and 3 years of imprisonment, but when this offense is committed by a police officer on duty, it is not applied. Unfortunately, police brutality within and outside the jail has become so common that nobody bats an eye anymore.
4. Political Interference: Lack of demarcation in duties and responsibilities of various agents results in political interference. Police officers are not able to do their work due to the interference of political leaders. There is no proper security of minimum tenure for officers which leads to them abiding with compulsion due to fear of being posted elsewhere, or worse - losing their jobs.
Police reform is long overdue in India, but it’s better to implement it late rather than never. They are needed to uphold the constitution, the rule of law, and the institutions of state as much as it is needed to make sure that laws are obeyed, individual citizens have assured their personal security and are able to pursue their lives free from fear.