Training minds

Print edition : July 04, 2008

The Millennium Training Complex at the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel National Police Academy in Hyderabad.-BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

It is institutions such as the National Police Academy that will have to apply themselves to the difficult task of raising the level of honesty in IPS officers.

It has no precedents to look back upon but has an inspiring example to set for future generations. It has to build itself and build others. It has to create among its alumni that love and reverence for their alma mater which are at once the pride and heritage of an educational institution.

- Union Home Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in a message given at the Central Police Training College, Mount Abu (1948).

I WAS at the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel National Police Academy (SVPNPA), Hyderabad, a fortnight ago to speak to Indian Police Service (IPS) probationers on the nuances of cyber security. I was deeply impressed with what I saw.

The NPA is undoubtedly a great centre of excellence, possibly among the best police training establishments in the world. Its high academic standards and its outstanding infrastructure for outdoor training can be the envy of most police forces elsewhere in the globe. Some of the brightest boys and girls in the country are chosen to go there at the end of a tough all-India competition. They are put through a rigorous programme that lasts nine months, long enough to straighten out individual angularities.

There are many incentives to strive hard, including the Best Trainee award that earns one the Prime Ministers baton and the privilege of commanding the IPS batch at the passing-out parade held each year in September. In sum, the NPA is the pride of the Indian Police.

Does it, however, rise to popular expectations of measurable contribution towards shaping Indian police leadership? This question is especially relevant in the context of the scandals that are being reported from different parts of the country. Does it at least partially fulfil the dream of the warrior from Gujarat, one of Indias illustrious sons who as the Union Home Minister was the principal architect of the Central Police Training College set up after Independence and which now appropriately bears his name? These and many other questions nag every visitor to this hallowed institution, which turns 60 this year.

Why is it that the professionalism that reverberates through the corridors of the NPA wears out the moment a probationer leaves its portals? Again, why is it that the ethics taught in the academys classrooms are nearly forgotten when IPS officers go into the field? Is the NPA a mere showpiece to be admired only from a distance because it cannot stand a close scrutiny? Many such misgivings bordering on utter cynicism are often heard among the enlightened observers of the police in India.

Their negative feelings are shared by people like me who were once part of the elitist cadre and who now desperately want the IPS to succeed where other services have failed. It is not merely the Ministry of Home Affairs that should be concerned over the apparent decline in the standards of conduct of many IPS officers. The average citizen, who is the consumer of police service, should be equally agitated.

The Central Police Training College, set up in 1948 to train the first batch of IPS (successor to the Indian Police, or IP as it was called under the British) officers, had Mount Abu as its home until 1975 when it shifted to its sprawling 200-acre campus in Shivrampalli, outside Hyderabad. This was a welcome change, considering the fact that facilities in Mount Abu in those days were near primitive.

Successive directors have encouraged a cross section of society to visit the NPA and savour the unique ambience in which IPS officers are trained. What impresses me the most is the academy leaderships sensitivity to the environment. Each time I come, the campus is greener. Water harvesting and drip irrigation have done wonders to a terrain that is otherwise known only for its rocks. Installation of solar lights in some parts of the campus aims at energy saving, so badly needed these days. The shramdan provided by probationers at least once a month helps keep the whole place spick and span. The NPA is home to 67 varieties of trees, 50 species of birds and 25 species of butterflies.

Indoor classes are conducted in the elegant Millennium block. The full-fledged forensic laboratory is where the scientific and medical knowledge that probationers require to prepare themselves for supervisory responsibilities once they are posted to different States is imparted. Part of the outdoor training is conducted in the brand new Diamond Jubilee Complex. It has facilities such as a sand model room, an interactive firearms training simulator room and an endurance training hall. The IPS Mess provides the right setting for the ceremonial dinners that are held on special occasions.

The syllabus for training has undergone a sea change over the years. The oft-heard complaint that there was an undue emphasis on outdoor work, such as drill, horse riding, shooting, is no longer valid. That a police officer needs to be not only physically fit but also sufficiently cerebral has been recognised, and course content has been modernised. Modern trends in crime, combined with a lot of technology and new styles of human resources management aimed at preserving employee morale, get adequate coverage in the instruction.

Also, both psychology and ethics are given more than modest attention to provide the police trainee with a complete education. Most significantly, trainees are exposed to the fundamentals of media handling. Simulated exercises conducted by those currently in the media are part of the curriculum. This feature takes into account disasters such as the Aarushi murder case.

Guest lecturers from different walks of life complement the inputs provided by the NPAs carefully chosen permanent staff and those who come on deputation for a prescribed tenure. The NPA has been fortunate to have had successive directors known for their professionalism and integrity and who can function as role models for those entering the IPS. Dr. G.S. Rajagopal, the current director, in just 18 months, has introduced several innovations to strengthen training programmes.

After all this, why does the IPS still does not measure up to popular expectations? A booklet prepared by the NPA provides some interesting insights. The current batch of 94 trainees has 14 women (as against 18 in the previous batch). As far as reservations go, 47.87 per cent belong to the general category, the Other Backward Classes account for 28.72 per cent, the Scheduled Castes for 14.43 per cent and the Scheduled Tribes for 8.25 per cent. One cannot, therefore, complain of a lopsided representation of caste and social groups. One factor that could be cause for some comment is the fact that 64 per cent are from urban areas. Whether having more recruits from the rural sector in an IPS batch would make a difference to conduct vis-a-vis the common man is a matter for debate.

More than 27 per cent are married, a situation far different from what existed when I was trained in 1963-64. Nearly 50 per cent are above the age of 28 at entry, a phenomenon that many complain is unacceptable in a training environment where minds have to be moulded and shaped to make trainees adapt themselves to the concept of public service.

Nearly 70 per cent come into the IPS after a previous job, again a profile that is hardly conducive to the acceptance of new ideas. One positive feature, however, is that nearly 40 per cent of the trainees are engineers.

There is still no clue in the above profile to explain why a substantial number of officers slip up in terms of devotion to duty and adherence to the exacting standards of honesty expected of senior police officers. I quizzed Rajagopal and his deputies on this. They were equally baffled by this complex phenomenon. One response, however, was interesting. It is the pressure from spouses for high living that leads to the many compromises seen. This may be too simplistic an explanation, but in the absence of any other theory I am inclined to accept it.

I wonder whether the counselling sessions held by the academy staff with probationers after they have spent a few months in the field brought out any significant inputs on the subject.

Nevertheless, falling standards of honesty among a significant number of IPS officers is a matter of great concern to all of us. It is poor consolation that members of other civil services are no better. By the very nature of their work as guardians of society, the police will necessarily be measured by a different and much more rigorous yardstick. It is institutions such as the NPA that will have to apply themselves to the difficult task of raising the level of honesty in IPS officers. Their ratings will depend upon how well they do this job in an ambience that unfortunately promotes deviance and corruption. Ultimately, it is the pride in the uniform that should keep an IPS officer upright and on the right track.

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