Anusha Biswas writes a lucid piece on the state of policing in India. She vouches for reforms aimed toward sensitization and capacity building of the Indian police to ensure the well-being of its citizens.
Granting power without instilling sensitivity builds a monstrous machinery that can decide the life and death of its people without possessing any ethical right or reasoning to do so. Under the governing laws of the Nation, the police derives their powers from federal law, the 1973 Code of Criminal Procedure which in turn borrows heavily from the Police Act of 1861. 1861 provides for a faulty base for a democratic system since it marked a set of colonial laws introduced to suppress revolt. An increase in power without an increase in actual operational autonomy would simply make the police force a dangerously powerful puppet of the political executive. The proactive action or the blind inaction of the police has been greatly influenced by the political atmosphere. There have been cases of rioting or mob lynching where the police has played the role of the notorious bystander, while in certain other cases, it made no delay to lathi charge and arrest even peaceful protesters. In a structure where the police has to be more concerned with placating the political heads than safeguarding the law and order of the country, an increase in policing powers would be a blow to the democratic nature of the country.
To do execute its task, the legal framework has handed almost unlimited powers to the police. Chapter V, Section 46 of the Code of Criminal states that police can use "all means necessary" to arrest someone who tries to flee or resist arrest. Such provisions have often been misused, leaving the police with a foul legacy of unlawful encounters and custodial killings. The UP Police had conducted 420 encounters in six months, killing 15. An ill-trained police have shown little sensitivity in dealing with protesting farmers or any demonstrations, cracking down with lathi charge and arrests. Such provisions go against Article 19, Right to Assemble peacefully and without arms. The police have often taken up the role of moral policing and very little effort had been taken to curb cases of vigilante lynching. The Mohammad Akhaq lynching case is one such instance, where the six accused policemen were granted bail. The police have often been a supporter of mob justice and extrajudicial executions. In a country where political leaders make aggressive comments insinuating extrajudicial killings, it is no wonder that the police take it upon themselves to execute their own distorted notions of justice.
Thus the age-old question still haunts our system, 'Who watches the watchmen?' There have been many cases of unlawful arrests, unwarranted searches, custodial rapes, and killings. Instances of custodial death of Father Stan Swamy, death due to custodial lynching of father and son in Kerala and custodial rapes stress the fact that the police needs to be policed. All of these go against the Right to Life and Liberty, Article 21 of the Constitution and reveal an insensitive ill trained police force. With legal provisions such as Sedition, the police has been empowered to make arrests on grounds such as threat to national sovereignty and security. These grounds remain greatly vague and their ambiguity has been exploited to supress dissent of any sort. Such legal framework allow the police to take draconian measures without much need for justification. Sedition, again is part of the colonial hangover package, a regressive law introduced by the British to thwart the freedom struggle. The provision of preventive detention is another legal tool that has been misused. In fact, no democratic nation in the world like has the provision of preventive detention. The prison houses have been used to execute extrajudicial death sentences, where prisoners have simply been denied bail. The powers granted to armed forces in 'disturbed areas' has been condemned in international human rights forums. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) or The 1990 Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act give almost unlimited powers to the security forces. In 2019, the United Nations Human Rights Commission showed grave concern over the human rights violation in these 'disturbed areas', especially in light of the extrajudicial killings that followed the 2016 protests in Kashmir. Armed with such legal devices, the ambits of the khaki powers encroach well within the fundamental rights of citizens.
Rather than inflating the existing powers, the many suggested reforms need to be implemented. The police force suffers from many internal issues that need to be fixed for their smoother operation. For starters, it is terribly understaffed. In 2016 it had 137 police per lakh people against the sanctioned 187 police, which in turn is far lower than the US mandated 222 police per lakh person. Moreover, according to the 2016 reports, out of the sanctioned state police force, the bulk 86% belonged to the constabulary, 13% belonged to the upper subordinate ranks and only 1% belonged to the officer ranks. They lack adequate weaponry and machinery, the shortages being 75% and 71% in Rajasthan and West Bengal respectively.
Beyond physical policing lies the threat of constant surveillance and encroachment into privacy. The Indian Telegraph Act of 1885 and the Information Technology (IT) Act of 2000 form the legal base for surveillance by the Indian government. Such laws encroach upon the Right to Freedom and Right to Privacy.
The Supreme Court highlighted the need to create citizen-centric police in cases like the 2006 Prakash Singh case, where the three-judge bench analysed the flaws of the existing structure and suggested changes for a more reformed police force. In the K.S.Puttaswamy vs Union of India case, the Supreme Court laid forward guidelines to protect the Right to Privacy. The intended reforms need to be implemented to strike a balance between public interest and personal freedom. The intent of law is not to create an omnipotent police force but to ensure the well being of its citizens. In the given situation, one has to ask for training and sensitization of its officers and not added powers to a faulty system.