India has seen an extensive number of conflicts, be it the Naxal attacks, communal riots, mass criminal infringements, a micro-transgression, or an organized crime. Owing to the existence of multiple identities living in various parts of India, the importance of an efficient police system becomes imperative. All interests and opinions need to be accommodated to ensure a healthy plural society. The establishment of law and order in such pluralistic societies is thus crucial.
However, the headlines of extrajudicial killings, excessive use of force by police, police brutality are flashing on our TV screens every second day. That makes us question the viability and effectiveness of the police, directing us towards the famous phrase - ‘Who Watches the Watchmen?’. The much-debated ‘Police Reforms’ in India are a result of years of ‘politicisation of the police’. The acknowledgement of this aspect of the police system in India is not just limited to the intellectual groups but is well known among all socio-economic groups in the country. As a result of this politicisation, the masses have started to lose their faith in law and order and consequently, take law into their own hands. Which results in a society deprived of justice.
It was the Prakash Singh & Ors vs Union Of India (2006) case where the Apex Court gave a judgement in favour of police reforms, suggesting the establishment of various committees like the State Police Complaints Authority (SPCA) and State Security Commissions (SSC). The petition was filed in 1996 against the police performing its duties in a politically partisan manner. These reforms are however yet to show any implementary form.
According to Article 246 of the Indian Constitution, the police come under the state list. Thus, it is the State government that controls the necessary operations of the police in any state. However, as one of the key features of the Ministry of Home Affairs, ‘internal security’ falls under the ambit of central powers. This involves the provision of central forces (CRPF, BSF, NSG, AR, etc), financial assistance, etc. Thus, the coordination between the centre and the states is inevitable even in this situation. State police play a bigger role due to its ‘localised’ approach which makes the process of law and order as well as internal security more holistic. Both these streams of the executive in India - the central forces and the state police, are not mutually exclusive but are intimately connected.
The state police witness the politicised arena of the police system while also facing problems of understaffing and low budgeting. Let us understand how this politicisation gives the police certain advantages that are easily misused.
Problem of Accountability
The organisational hierarchy that exists within the police force had the aim of ensuring accountability for a transparent police system. The dependence on the orders of the executive (state or central government) is to ensure that all decisions are taken rationally. However, both these factors have proven to be inefficient, resulting in chaos among the police acting on the ground. While that leaves the police in a worse situation, the privileges garnered from these problems are worth acknowledging. Any social responsibility comes with the responsibility of being transparent and accountable. However, because of this situation where the police are systematically as well as politically dependent on the political executives, they lose their accountability. When a common man who comes to the police seeking justice is turned away because of “orders from above”, creates a trust deficit, and the police are not held accountable. What was considered to be the ‘first line of defence’, is now a puppet of the politicians in front of the masses.
An alleged fake encounter by the U.P Police of Vikas Dubey, a gangster from Kanpur who was booked for killing 8 police officers in the year 2020, the father and son duo allegedly killed in police custody for opening their shop beyond curfew in Tamil Nadu, the four men held over a high-profile rape and murder case shot dead by the police while they were in custody - these are only a few incidents of “encounters” or extrajudicial killings in India. In the Om Prakash & Ors vs State Of Jharkhand (2016) case, the SC held that it is not the duty of the police to kill the accused on the ground even though he is a dreaded criminal. Further, the court observed that encounters amount to ‘state-sponsored terrorism.’ Indian police have been getting away with such killings since time immemorial. The apparent “backing” that is allegedly given by politicians or the people in power, makes the process more disreputable.
Independent use of Investigative Power
The authoritative nature of police created in the minds of Indian citizens also leads to feelings of fear and terror for the police. This gives them the privilege to use this fear to harass people. India is a country where more than half of the citizens do not know their constitutional and fundamental rights. In such a situation, the power vested in the police is easily abused to undergo independent investigations often involving harassment of the citizens involved. The political privileges, thus, amount to extreme police brutality and abuse of power.
The police system in India is a branch that cannot be left unreformed owing to such grim drawbacks. The rising number of law and order situations across the country demands a more efficient police force. In addition to this, the role of the judiciary in matters of police brutality and its politicization has been evident. However, a legislative and executive order is crucial for minimizing conflicts in a plural society.