By Manju Gupta
Maintenance of Public Order: A Source Book by Samar Singh, National Book Trust, India, 153 pp, Rs 60.00
This is a book which was evidently commissioned after the Gujarat riots as is clearly evident from the Introduction. It states: ?Shortly after the communal incidents that engulfed Gujarat state in 2002, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) decided to commission a quick study for the purpose of collating and preparing a compilation of all the relevant legal provisions for the maintenance of public peace and order and for specifying the extent of powers and duties of the concerned law enforcement authorities. The study was considered especially necessary in the context of the communal disturbances in Gujarat and the fact that a compilation of relevant legal provisions on the subject was not readily available.?
To strengthen its claim still further for publishing the book, the author states, ?It is well recognised that the maintenance of peace and order is the first and foremost function of the State. Indeed, it is the sine qua non for the independence and well-being of any organised human society. In ancient times, it was considered the duty of the ruler to provide proper protection to all his subjects and any ruler who could not ensure this basic requirement was considered worthless and unfit to fill that role. This is clearly stated in the Santiparva of the famous epic Mahabharata and in Kautilya'sArthashastra. In a sense, there prevailed a sacred trust between the ruler and the ruled, with the latter giving their allegiance and support in return for the protection provided by the ruler.
?In ancient India, the constituent functions of the State were the maintenance of peace and order, security of person and property and defence against external aggression. These were always considered basic to the State and came first no sooner order was established from chaos and anarchy and virtually with the birth of the State itself. All ministrant functions concerning the welfare of the people came thereafter, with the establishment of peace and order and consolidation of the State as an entity.?
The author, in his efforts to not hurt the feelings of the party concerned, has diplomatically stated, ?In this connection, some related aspects need mention. The first concerns the failure in implementation. The reasons may vary from sheer ignorance to incompetence and negligence, even dereliction of duty on the part of the concerned public servants. This is a serious problem area that has to be addressed in right earnest. An essential requirement to that end is the ready availability of a compilation of all the relevant legal provisions on the subject. No doubt, periodical review and updating would have to be ensured also for obvious reasons.?
The author has made an indirect attack on the police when he says that maintenance of public peace and order ?becomes more pertinent and serious when considered in the context of the role of public servants in maintaining communal harmony and preventing the outbreak of communal riots and disturbances.? He continues, ?Besides, from time to time, the acts of omission and commission on the part of the policemen on duty have drawn, on the role of the police, in general, considerable controversy and debate. While some of this may be baseless or on account of misinformation, it cannot be denied that the overall image of the police in maintaining public peace and order is far from satisfactory. Further, it has to be accepted that a part of the problem arises from ignorance or negligence, or both, on the part of the concerned policemen. Here again, the ready availability of a set of the relevant laws becomes an essential requirement.?
Still another reason for the book is the ?public discussion and debate on the subject that take place often, including that in the media and the legislative bodies. Some of this is certainly uninformed and misleading, arising from inadequate information or understanding of the various provisions applicable to a specific situation and relating to the powers and duties of the concerned public functionaries, as also the rights, duties and obligations of the people at large or a section of them.?
It is alright to enlighten the lay reader on the legal provisions but how far can he comprehend these is beyond comprehension. Further, the relevance of this book to the lay reader as a supplementary reader is very doubtful as it is a subject-specific book meant more for administrators, lawyers and law-enforcers.
(National Book Trust, India, A-5 Green Park, New Delhi-110016.)