The Indian Police Act
By Maxwell Pereira
mfjpkamath@gmail.com

I attended last weekend a panel discussion on Transparency in Governance. The eminent panellists - Government's Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah, jurist Dr LM Singhvi and Dr Jayprakash Narayan of Lok Satta, with former CBI/ Human Rights man D.Kartikeyan moderating - took pains with their brilliant expositions to explain and elucidate on the "Right to Information" Bill that has sought to empower civil society and provide the common man with a tool to make bureaucracy responsible. This, in an effort to bring transparency in government functioning - thereby, providing means to battle the harassment and malady of inefficiency, wanton apathy and unaccountability, corruption and other such ills - currently the order of the day.

What stood out during the informed interaction, was that the 'Right to Information' was not a panacea nor an all encompassing answer to all evil - but just a means to achieve the ultimate objective for a clean and good, people friendly, administration. A beginning has been made, still a long way to go!

Among the plethora of irksome grey areas identified, was the utter lack of awareness amongst the people at large, and also the absence of a single window available today for public to get the information they desired - just that this is something to be worked upon as an end objective too. Also, with departments yet to streamline their information system, to what extent the government is required to keep its 'empowered' citizenry informed of its crucial moves, is hazy - other than an advisory in the Bill to departments to increase the use of computers to record and store all possible data and make available for people to view on the web.

In this very line it may seem heartening to note the steps taken by the Ministry of Home Affairs. In its website are posted some crucial material hitherto not really within public domain, now available at the click of a mouse to those armed with an internet access. At this site one is periodically able to see new material, the latest in government endeavours and governance. It is in this context that I am writing - about the Police Act.

I really wonder how many people know that the Government has appointed a Committee to draft the new Police Act! An Act, the provisions of which are to impact one billion plus people on the Indian sub-continent! I, an interested former policeman, have come to know only because an ex-colleague and friend got deputed to the Committee as its Secretary. My question: In such a crucial matter, is it sufficient for the Government to merely post information on its website, or is it also necessary for it to strive at making people aware and alive to the fact with press releases, elicit public debates and discussions in a cross-section of the media and academic fora?

Even though policing in India existed in some form or the other since the Vedic era - for watch and ward, to bring evil-doers to justice - its functions and duties differed according to the development of society and were limited in scope in early times; increasing gradually with population and means of communication. Realising the need for a common pattern of police organisation and properly trained and disciplined body of men exclusively devoted to the prevention and detection of crime, it is the British who then introduced the Police as an independent unit in the State administration by enacting the Indian Police Act - 1861. It was done though to suit their colonial ends - a police system based not on the amiable London Bobby but on the pattern of the Irish Armed Constabulary which had proved successful for their designs in Ireland.

Further improvements came with the recommendations of the Police Commission of 1902-03. The evolving police force retained, however, its basic structure and the Act under which it performed. Then after independence and in Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel's envisioned scheme of things for a proper, well-organised, well-educated, well-disciplined, well-paid and independent All India civil service, the new Indian Police Service was born, replacing the existing 'Indian Police'.

58 years and over after Independence, this more than 150 years old antiquated Act of 1861 under which the police function, has not changed. There has been much debate over this, and a new Act with repeal of the old one, has been considered a crying need. The Government of India has now constituted in September 2005, a Committee to draft this much needed new Police Act to replace the old - in view of the changing role/ responsibility of the police and the challenges before it; especially on account of the growth and spread of insurgency/ militancy/ naxalism and so on.

The new Act is to include measures for attitudinal changes of police including working methodology to elicit cooperation and assistance of the community; to reflect the expectations of the people regarding their police in a modern democratic society; the use of scientific investigation methods to strengthen the criminal justice system, enabling the police to tackle futuristic trends and organized crime including cyber crime and technological additions in the hands of the criminals. Also to be addressed are concern for human rights, weaker sections, women and the people belonging to Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes.

The website exhorts all concerned to send their valuable suggestions for consideration of the Committee - to be addressed to the Police Modernisation Division, Ministry of Home Affairs, Jaisalmer House, Man Singh Road, New Delhi-11. Strangely, the suggestions are required to be sent by 31st October, 2005. If a regular browser of the MHA website like me gets to see this only in November 2005, one wonders how serious, really, the government is, in involving the citizens in this crucial exercise!


950 words28.11.2005:
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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