New image of police can be used for reforms

With cops being appreciated for their fight against coronavirus, it is a good opportunity to bring about the necessary police reforms in the country.

Cops being appreciated for their fight against coronavirus
Cops being appreciated for their fight against coronavirus

An unexpected fallout of Covid-19 in India has been an appreciation of the police work. So much so that the policemen are being called “heroes” and “corona warriors” along with medical professionals. Right from the Prime Minister to the Governors, Chief Ministers, Ministers at the top to the local residents in many places, we have seen on TV channels people raising slogans appreciating the policemen, besides showering flower petals on them for the excellent work that they are doing.

As a policeman I’m happy and proud to see these images as I had never thought that such a day would come in my life. Having served in the police for about 40 years and even after retirement, I have always seen only police criticism on various counts like crudeness, corruption, unprofessionalism, insensitivity, arrogance, subverting the law, favouring the powerful, ill-treating the poor and underprivileged, and so on.

Not that these remarks for the police have vanished, of course for which many times they are rightly blamed, but these have taken a back seat these days. There is no doubt that police have stepped out boldly and correctly in this hour of national crisis all over India.

When most people are indoors, the policemen are out on duty round the clock doing a host of duties right from enforcing the law, implementing the lockdown, giving protection to the medical staff, helping medical teams to go to the lanes and bylanes in many places to trace the Covid-19 patients and sometime the policemen are being attacked at many places, ensuring quarantine, tracing those patients and their contacts who have gone underground, bring those to book who have assaulted the medical professionals and so on, apart from performing their normal duties.

Then there are heart-warming stories from the police like singing songs in colonies to encourage people to follow lockdown norms, holding talent shows for migrant workers, serving food to the needy, bringing birthday cakes for elderly in Punjab, taking essential groceries and medicines to the needy, donating blood, etc. There are many more such stories of the humane face of the police. Many policemen have been infected also with coronavirus in the line of duty and a few have even died.

It is not as if they are doing such things for the first time, but it was never taken note of. In our country, crisis keep on taking place in one form or the other, as it is big country with multireligious, multi-cultural, multi-lingual chunks of population. And still police have been broadly doing a good job. Of course, there are some bad hats in the police, like in all departments, but the entire force has been painted as rogue generally.

With media I think it has adversarial relationship and electronic media has further dented the image of the police as good work is rarely shown or publicised. This is not to say that there are no problems in the functioning of the police, but generally no one is willing to look into its causes. We have inherited colonial police still being governed by the Police Act 1861, a 160-year-old Act, according to which the police report to the executive and not to the law or Parliament. Today practically politicians are the executive and no political party wants to leave the control of the police so that it can serve their personal and political ends. There is a very long list of police reforms which are needed.

These are in the areas of filling of lakhs of existing vacancies, sanctioning more strength with increase in population and duties, training, postings and transfers, buildings and housing, equipment of all kinds including latest technological equipment, etc. Latest technologies have added to the crime in a big way. The Central and state governments are not doing what is required. There is interference in many matters for money or political ends.

Even the seven directives of the Supreme Court issued in 2006 about police reforms have not been implemented properly. The result is police is where it is and will continue to be so. The police leadership is also to share blame because every deficiency in the functioning of the cops can’t be pinned on politicians. But now the present appreciation of the police work during the coronavirus is a good opportunity for the politicians, the Central and state governments, the judiciary, the public and the police department in each state to bring about the necessary police reforms and improve the image of the police.

First the Supreme Court should ensure that the Central and state governments implement its directives of 2006 in letter and spirit. The so-called compliance of many state governments shown so far to the Supreme Court is a sham. Second, the Central government must fulfil its part of duty as laid down by the apex court and lead from front as an example for the state governments. Doing the needful in Union Territories will be a good beginning as these come under its direct control. Third, all political parties should make it a part of their agenda that they will have the best police force for the country and will do whatever it takes. And public should put pressure in a big way as ultimately the police is for them. Last but not the least, the police leadership has to perform properly, guide the forces correctly, and stand up to the powers that be.

Many times, some of them crawl when they are asked to bend, but should they even bend! Granted that this culture today has been built over many decades, but they must reverse the trend. With lots of goodwill from the public these days at the disposal of the police due to the excellent work done by them, it shouldn’t be very difficult to have a professional and neutral police force to serve the country. And the initiative for this should come from the top in country, with a nudge from below and everybody supporting it. The writer is an ex-IPS officer and former Director General of Police.