DOES the police system in India deserve to be reformed? Yes. Has any authoritative body—or bodies—made any attempt to recommend changes in the existing order? Yes, very much so. Were they ever implemented? No. Why? And there lies a story. The widespread atrocities committed by the Police during the Emergency (1975-77) prompted the Government of India to appoint the first National Police Commission in 1977, with wide terms of reference. The Commission produced eight reports between 1979 and 1981, suggesting wide-ranging reforms, some drastic, in the existing police set-up which the author, to his credit, has spelt out in great detail. Were they implemented? No! In 1998, the then Union Home Minister, Shri Indrajit Gupta wrote to all Chief Ministers to implement the reforms recommended by the NPC. To no avail.
In May 1998, the then Central Government appointed another Committee on Police Reforms chaired by the well-known police official JF Ribeiro, to review the action taken towards the implementation of the NPC reports. The Ribeiro committee submitted two reports in 1998 and 1999. All that happened was that the reports were only criticised for revising the NPC recommendations, rather than reviewing the action taken on them. Reason? One reason could be the Ribeiro Committee wanted a cell to be set-up to deal with the problem of nexus between crime syndicates, political leaders, bureaucrats and others.
Then came the Padmanabhaiah Committee Report headed by a distinguished IAS officer. It hardly saw the light of the day. In June and August 2005, five workshops were held in which 264 Superintendents of Police from all over India participated. No greater experts could have come together to suggest frank improvement in the quality of police service. Their recommendations were made from grass roots experience and cannot possibly be improved. These SPs knew what they were asking for. But little notice was taken of their vast hands—on knowledge. It sounds ridiculous, but in September 2006 the Central Government appointed yet another Committee, headed by a former Attorney General Soli Sorabjee, consisting of eleven members to draft a new Indian Police Act. The Committee held 40 meetings and drafted a Model Police Act having 221 Articles in 16 Chapters. The draft, says the author drily, “got a rather cold reception from the states (and) the dream of police reform seems to be as distant as ever”.
The author of this highly-researched and well-documented study, JY Umranikar is no ordinary police officer. Presently the Director General of Police, Special Operations, Government of Maharashtra, he must be among the very few in his cadre whose expertise has been fully made use of not only in India (he has had a stint in the Cabinet Secretariat) but by several international organisations as well and is the author of several research papers. His disappointment with government is shared by many, in this case by none other than Satish Sahney, former Commissioner of Police, Mumbai who says in his foreword, sadly, that even the Malimath Committee which looked into the criminal justice system as a whole and made some significant recommendations, has been ignored. Mr Umranikar notes that “our criminal justice system, with a staggering 2.63 crore cases pending in the district and subordinate courts (including 29.49 lakhs cases of traffic challans) is close to collapse….” Does anybody care?
The author is clear in his mind as to who is to blame. As he put it: “The Ruling Class has consistently and continuously viewed the police as a convenient tool of exploitation and for pursuing their own (Ruling) class interest”. To read this book is to shed tears at the sheer irresponsibility of the Ruling Class. The author, incidentally, has high praise for the Gujarat Government, though Mr Narendra Modi is not mentioned by name. According to him, an “innovative effort to reduce court-pending cases” started in Gujarat with Evening Courts (6 to 8 pm) has helped clear off a large backlog of cases. Apparently, with more than 70 courts, Gujarat has been able to dispose of around one lakh cases, civil and criminal, with sixteen evening courts in Ahmedabad district alone having decided approximately 30,000 cases in two years!
What this book does is to provide a full picture of what the responsibilities and duties of the police are, in all their ramifications. It is sobering to know what a heavy load the police carry on their shoulders, day-in-and-day-out without a murmur. The list seems to be never-ending. One feels a great deal of sympathy for the police, maligned and damned for ages as a repressive force. Few realise the sheer tension under which the police have to function, having to work overtime with little chance of weekly holidays, suffering from stress-related diseases like diabetes, ulcer, heart attacks etc. How many know that the suicide rate in the Maharashtra Police force is 17 per lakh, while the national average is 10.5 per one lakh population? Another significant factor is the public perception of police. Says the author unrestrainedly: The secondary title of this book: “A Sisyphean Saga” reminds us of the Greek mythological king Sisyphus who had been condemned to roll a round rock to the top the mountain, the rock slipping down again and again, endlessly to the frustration of the king, no matter how hard he tries to keep the rock on the top. Mr Umranikar has done signal service not just to the police, but to the nation as a whole which makes him fully deserving of the highest approbation. He should give an autographed copy of his book to the current Home Minister P Chidambaram to read. It would add to his education and hopefully help us to meet our needs.
(Ameya Prakashan, 207, Business Guild, Law College Road, Pune-411 004, email:[email protected])