Areas of Concern….
By Maxwell Pereira
maxpk@vsnl.com

Areas of concern there are many. But off hand a few come to mind, that need to be urgently addressed. Police leadership in the years gone by has tried, and those in the chair are obviously trying! Even so, there is need for these concerns to be voiced, because the perceived degree of infectious malady that pervades and abounds in police functioning, tends to negate to a great extent the mountains of good work the police do to hold the country together, to give its citizens an environment in which the rule of law prevails, and with the resultant stability, peace and tranquillity, to act as catalysts to growth and prosperity.

When still an SDPO, one of my earliest bosses had warned me against ‘padding’. I had gone up to him with the SHO, a revered veteran, to discuss a case file. Scrutinising the scanty evidence, and listening to how the veteran would still ‘fit karo’ the charge-sheet to positively secure a conviction, this boss had forcefully and perhaps unwittingly presented me another side of him.

He had opened my eyes to the vistas of ethics in practise – by carefully meandering his supervisory intervention, to insist on and do the right thing; to ensure and preserve integrity while at the same time not in any manner deride or insult the veteran investigator’s zeal for a practical solution.

Later, at a private sitting, this boss had taken pains to educate me further; to tell me in no uncertain terms that the police have not really been contracted to secure convictions through contrived, manipulated, or ‘padded’ evidence; that it is up to the society to make good existing lacunae if any in law, and the system, which pose hurdles to send criminals to jail, and so on. In his bold stand, he had taken pains to bring home to me an essential lesson that stood me in good stead throughout my service career.

I need to say this, because very often this very excuse – that of getting results, and getting them quickly – is taken by the police as a ground for short cuts. ‘PPW’ it is termed, in common police parlance… sniggeringly meant to denote ‘police practical work’ – not by the book, but by so called ground reality!

It is often argued on behalf of the policeman on the street – whose barometer of efficiency in the eyes of the public is ultimately the speed with which he achieves results, that he is forced to resort to short cuts to counter the colossal odds that plague him; be it with a low detection rate, or an almost ‘no conviction’ rate. The fact that the policeman has control over his investigative role, having a chance to change, substitute, introduce, or control in whatever manner the evidence, often tends to give him a misplaced ego, at times to serve ulterior ends, if not properly checked at each supervisory level. These factors which make the policeman vulnerable to most of the major accusations levelled against him, need to be noted and addressed.

The policeman in recent years has faced a tremendously negative image at the hands of human rights activists who have vociferously highlighted cases of flagrant violations of human rights and other atrocities committed by security forces and other functionaries of the criminal justice administration. Not without reason. There have been instances where, in their anxiety and over-zealousness to enforce law as well as to curb terrorism and other forms of violence, the functionaries of the criminal justice administration have often lost sight of the fact that they are dealing with human beings.

To most policemen, violation of human rights means practise of third degree on an accused or suspect. To me, it is also the tendency to bend the law, and the violation of rules and procedures, especially with regard to arrest and detention, and denial of his rights guaranteed in the Constitution. Unfortunately, there is no denying the fact of tacit approval and looking the other way in matters of illegal detention, even for very senior levels – be it within the police set up, or the bureaucratic and political hierarchy involved. This is an area that defies all the prescribed rules and even the most stringent guidelines framed by the Supreme Court, which is the bane of all policing, and needs to be addressed.

On this score, I recall one of my former Commissioners, drawing a fine line of distinction between the gazetted and the non-gazetted ranks. He was candid enough to tell me that there is a lot in the department which the senior echelons get knowledge of, but can never be a part of. The day the subordinate basks in the security of his superior’s knowledge and tacit concurrence with the short-cuts or irregularities employed, this Commissioner told me, it spells the death-knell – whatever be the laudable or honourable end intention be. In the distinction he made, the superior, once with knowledge of the irregularity, cannot and will not close his eye over the misdemeanour. This distinction unfortunately has disappeared. Today’s seniors are not only involved, but also expected to be involved, by the powers that be – and full knowledge and not tacit but active concurrence is viewed positively. Instances are not rare, where levels (…within, or in control of the police) never expected to stray from the narrow, do so with impunity… “in the interest of the department, the government, and the country!”

Along the same stream there is need for the police to rein in their compulsive and indiscriminate urge to exercise their draconian power to arrest on a mere FIR. The police need to do some soul-searching for an in-house regulation and restriction in this matter, without waiting for governmental intervention or other public or philanthropic agencies to cry hoarse. The police are already wary of the proposed changes in the laws of arrest, probably and mostly for just reasons. But the fact remains that there is rampant misuse of the powers of arrest, mainly for partisan and unsavoury reasons and not necessarily in the interests of justice. It should be known and practised that arrest is not mandatory and should be resorted to sparingly and under strict supervisory control. There is need to define the circumstances and the sections of law in which alone arrest can be contemplated or resorted to, and devise means with checks and balances to ensure against arbitrary and indiscriminatory arrests even before investigation and sufficient evidence.

As evidenced during the past half a century and more after Independence, the endeavour of the police leadership in the country to shed the colonial image of a "ruler's police" and become the "people's police" has not been easy or blessed with success. The police image, to the contrary, keeps plummeting. Maybe it is due to the role expectations the people have of their police are growing? …or perhaps misunderstood? Maybe because the police today has become totally a tool in the hands of the politicians? Or maybe it is because the police themselves have abdicated their responsibility, surrendered their expected virtuous role as protectors of life and property and preventers of crime? …. and or instead, joined ranks with the criminally minded who pervade the society today?

There is still the dissatisfaction when public take their grievances to the police – dissatisfaction with the response, with the attitude, whatever… and this especially till the grievance stands redressed. In a property crime matter, till of course the lost goods are found and returned. The policeman knows, and the victim knows, that by following the legally prescribed methods and procedures, the policeman’s effort to work out the case and solve the victim’s grievance does not entirely succeed or satisfy, for whatever reasons. And even in solved cases when the police send the charge-sheet to court, often even the recovered property does not revert to the aggrieved for years, till after the case is finalized in Court. And at the court, the complainant or the witness is summoned by the Court Clerk with utmost discourtesy, drawing no distinction whatsoever between the criminal and respectable citizen. A name yelled out, in the most humiliating manner, making the victim’s resentment against the establishment grow and fester. Though not directly or solely in the hands of the police alone, these are areas that also need to be addressed urgently

More often than not, it is the policeman that has to bear the brunt of the misdemeanour of others – a third party, whose actions of commission or omission that may have pained the aggrieved party. As for instance, in the case of the water or power riots, student or commuter agitations – all of which are actually meant to be directed against a particular segment of the government that deals with the issue. But having failed to satisfy the public needs, cause the people to agitate, resulting ultimately in a confrontation with the police. Even in matters of corruption in any agency. The wrath of the public is ultimately the baby of the police, who are constrained at times to use force. This use of force that corrupts the very way of life of the policeman, which in the end influences his own psyche and gets reflected in his behavioural responses. The policeman’s tendency to brush away anything that crosses his path - can psychologically be attributed to this fact. The government and the establishment need to take note of this crucial issue, to realise to what extent they themselves are responsible for the deterioration in the stock of their police.

Then again, the equipment in the hands of the police to deliver goods – be it in the form of existing law, or technological inputs, is gravely lacking. The Criminal Procedure Code requires the policeman to collect evidence against the criminal and produce him in Court within 24 hours, which is the maximum period a suspect is permitted to be in police custody before being produced before the Magistrate. The dictum in law - "it is better to let off a hundred criminals rather than punish one innocent man" - is often taken advantage of to its extreme effect by functionaries of the criminal justice administration, when this is construed as a license to permit the facility of bail or benefit of doubt, in majority of the cases.

While technical know how, computer aids, scientific and forensic support etc. is the order of the day for police forces in most parts of the developed and even the lesser developed countries, police forces in India have to battle against crime with primitive technical inputs, as may be required in the application of scientific investigations. Foreign police forces which rely mainly on such ready cal and forensic supports for their detections often get a tool to accuse their Indian counterparts of detections only through human right violations, solely because of the inadequacy of such ready support in India. In the matter of scientific aids, it is ridiculous that in our country we have to wait for FSL reports for years together. Scientific support is available shoulder to shoulder for the functioning field police officers in any established constabulary in the world.

To meet the tasks assigned to him, the policeman today sacrifices his health and the well being of his family life. At times even loosing his own life at the altar of duty. The long and irregular working hours that are his daily fare spell neglect of his family. Lack of time to devote to the institutional needs of his children often results in their poor academic achievement and even school drop outs. Because of work stress and rigours of his working life, the policeman's family life turns problematic, crises ridden and greatly strained. Psychologically harassed, the policeman is often forced to carry his official worries to his home, to infringe upon his domestic life, imposing and intruding on his domestic environment. The impact and influence of crime, crime and crime, very often results in tensions at home, in strained marital relationships and even criminality, in police children. These are areas totally neglected, where it is necessary for the government to wake up and provide a full-fledged police hospital to address these very issues of stress and health.

With the tremendous effort of the police management over the past few years, the satisfaction level for accommodation for Delhi Policemen is nearing 20%. Isn’t this ridiculous!? Ordinary policemen are forced to live in slums amidst the filth and squalor of the poverty stricken. Their own children are forced to grow up side by side others in environs that breed crime. Terribly underpaid and treated on par with the non-skilled, the policeman with the colossal powers vested in him is still expected to be the paragon of all virtues – without equipping him with sufficient infrastructure to hold on to his virtues or to insulate him from forces that make it possible for him not to practice his virtues. A major area of concern!

Lastly, a comment was made during a television debate a couple of days ago, by an IPS officer who has chucked himself out of the profession out of disgust and frustration: that the wiz kids joining the profession today are coming in with newer and newer methods never known before for raking in the moolah. And warned that these youngsters are going to be around for the next thirty years to loot the public and beat the system with their ingenious dimensions and methodologies for corruption. While this may be an extreme point of view, it nevertheless cannot be ignored.

900 words: 31.01.2005: Copy Right © Maxwell Pereira: 3725 Sec-23, Gurgaon-122002. You can interact with the author at http:// www.maxwellperira.com and maxpk@vsnl.com

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