Trends in law enforcement

Published : Jan 16, 2004 00:00 IST

The problem of integrity is not confined to the police force. However, it is society's responsibility to assert itself through motivating police officers and evolving a practical code of conduct for the entire service.

THE customary annual review of police performance at the national and State levels is usually dismissed by cynics as an exercise in futility. They strongly believe that the police and other agencies charged with maintaining peace and promoting a respect for the law are so much driven by arbitrary political direction that they can hardly benefit from analysis or introspection. According to the school of thought they represent, forces of deviance and evil are strongly entrenched in our milieu, and they emasculate the whole criminal justice system - not merely the police - so much that the principal players can hardly learn from past mistakes. The suggestion here is that, since the polity is managed by people to whom self-aggrandisement at any cost was the sole criterion, values such as professionalism and personal integrity are irrelevant. Events in our country since the watershed year of 1975, when one saw a national Emergency imposed on the flimsiest of grounds, lend credibility to such an assessment, however warped it might seem. This palpable loss of faith in the law enforcement machinery is a serious situation. It is an entirely different matter that such lack of faith in a crucial state instrument ignores the many significant achievements (such as counter-terrorism, dignitary protection and conduct of peaceful elections in four States during the recent Assembly elections) to its credit during the year. The stark fact, however, is that popular despondency, unchecked, can bring a constitutional government down on its knees. It is against this backdrop that we need to analyse the happenings of the year that has gone by.

It is not my intention to chronicle all the events of 2003. I would be content with identifying some major trends that should cause concern to most of us. In doing so, I would refer to a few incidents alone that would help to clarify myself and bring home to the reader the substance and significance of a particular trend.

In the early years of the Republic, we were not very confident that the Centre would be able to quell all fissiparous tendencies that were in full play at that time in some parts of the country. The northeastern States, Nagaland and Mizoram in particular, gave us anxiety for nearly two decades. Both the Army and the police were used to great effect to bolster the efforts initiated on the political front. The combination of diplomacy and firmness did not bring immediate dividends. However, over a course of time, the strategy did succeed to convince the polity and the public in the two States that their destinies were inextricably linked to New Delhi and not to a place outside the country. As a result, we can confidently say today that Nagaland and Mizoram have been nearly totally integrated with the rest of the country. Manipur remains a disturbed region but not to the extent that will arouse a fear that separatist forces there will eventually prevail. In sum, the situation in the northeastern region is one that infuses confidence in us in the ability of the political machinery to use selectively the security agencies for sending a strong message to those trying to disrupt national unity.

This lengthy preamble is required only to put recent happenings in Assam in the right context. Here is a situation in which the Railways had to abandon a routine process of recruitment to one of its low level positions, all because of the fear of the local population that most of the vacancies were being gobbled up by people from neighbouring Bihar at the cost of the locals. The Railways' decision came after brutal attacks in a few parts of Assam on whoever was suspected to be a Bihari. Murders were committed at will and the Assam Police appeared totally unprepared for the orgy of violence. At least one case of rape was reported. What do you make out of this intolerance that cuts at the root of nationhood? It is entirely possible that a few Bihari youth had used irregular methods to get priority in recruitment at the cost of some Assamese. Did this justify the violence against the so-called outsiders? Nothing can be more galling if we remember that this is happening 53 years after we became a Republic.

There are two aspects of the Assam incidents that are worrying. First, they send out the signal that the country's integration is fragile. As a result, in the future also, sensitive economic issues could trigger major inter-State violence capable of destabilising law and order. More important, such happenings pose the danger of igniting parochial feelings among the police. The consequence? In such an environment, professionalism could yield place to expediency and chauvinism in an agency that has to remain scrupulously objective if we are to hold together as a nation.

The mere creation of paramilitary and central police forces will not help to reverse this trend as, under the Constitution, it is the State police that is the pivot around which law enforcement revolves. I find it difficult to exaggerate the import of the Assam happenings. They point to the need for training programmes that would build a national outlook among policemen who are rooted to regions and States. We have excellent programmes in central institutions such as the National Police Academy, Hyderabad, aimed at the Indian Police Service (IPS) and central police organisations. Their spirit will have to be captured in full and transmitted to State police training establishments that traditionally offer instruction in law and its enforcement in the restricted State setting without bringing a national perspective. I am of the view that a mere study of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Indian Evidence Act (IEA) does not impart to policemen a national outlook. One has to go beyond this to tell State police officers that policing transcends the boundaries of a State and it has necessarily national links. The sooner State police training syllabi are reoriented to accommodate this imperative the better, because, we do not know when Assam will repeat itself elsewhere in the country.

THE stamp paper scam is still very much in the news. Its dimensions are mind-boggling. It is possible that there will be a few more startling revelations about men in public life before it actually goes to court in the form of a chargesheet. There are two features of this sordid episode that should make us sit up and ask a few questions. A fraud of this magnitude was not detected until it was a decade old. This is what Finance Minister Jaswant Singh is rightly worked up about. His ire is against intelligence agencies, especially those within his own Ministry. He is quite justified in his indignation.

The charge of intelligence failure is all too familiar to us. Even the mighty Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have been accused of failure to predict 9/11. The point is, are we in India doing anything more than what the Americans have done to sharpen intelligence performance? I am quite alive to the tireless efforts made by New Delhi and some of the States in this direction. When this is so, why were we found wanting in the stamp paper scam, a nationwide fraud that has the severest implications for our economy? While our intelligence outfits have done reasonably well in keeping track of the machinations of our principal adversary operating from across the border, how is it that we have been ignorant of individuals like Telgi who can cause tremendous damage to our economy? I personally know how quick we were to react to Pakistan's action in pumping fake five hundred rupee notes into our country with a view to wrecking our economy. The swift coordinated efforts in this matter neutralised the mischief greatly. Why did we then fail in the case of Telgi? There seems to be preponderant evidence that some politicians and many policemen had knowledge of the goings on. They either actively gave protection to him and his associates or turned a blind eye in return for a consideration. My concern is, how are we going to prevent future Telgis from corrupting the polity and the civil service. I know I am being idealistic because the whole of human history is replete with scandals of such proportions at periodic intervals. I am not for a moment going to suggest the creation of new agencies or strengthening the existing ones. What I am asking for is a simple inexpensive mechanism to monitor individuals and organisations that are suddenly flush with money. Our energies need to concentrate on this deceptively simple yet frustratingly complicated mission. Here, there has to be a synergy between intelligence agencies and organisations in the private sector that deal in money, not merely banks but asset management and insurance companies as well. It is the latter who interact with people who have come by a lot of money in quick time and who need to launder it. What I am suggesting has possibly been tried out unobtrusively but without much structure. We need to give precisely that to ongoing or fresh efforts to track down and neutralise depredators like Telgi. My belief is that the stamp paper scam was the most important happening of the past year that has immense potential to cause national harm at a time when our economy has been looking up tremendously.

The second feature of the scam that causes even greater anguish is the ease with which Telgi was able to buy up policemen and other members of the bureaucracy. Civil service and police corruption is not a new phenomenon. When the higher echelons of the police are accused of it, we need to take more than a mere notice of it. Two senior IPS officers in Maharashtra, one in the rank of an Additional DGP (the former Mumbai Police Commissioner) and the other an IGP (an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology and Indian Institute of Management) are now languishing in jail for their alleged Telgi connection. While they cannot be condemned before they are tried judicially, the fact that there is enough evidence for their detention under the draconian Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) speaks volumes for the misconduct. It is not very material whether they received personal consideration from Telgi or their acts of omission and commission now under the scanner were at the behest of some political bigwigs. That they placed themselves in a situation where they had to be arrested and lodged in jail is enough to bring shame to the Indian Police Service as a whole. The New Delhi Television ran a story the other day listing the many Haryana IPS officers who had been charged with corruption in the recent past. Possibly, in many other States the picture is more appalling. What do we, as a community, do to stem the rot? Are we going to depend only on the Ministry of Home Affairs, which is the Cadre Authority for the IPS, to initiate a major exercise that will aim at correcting the alarming situation? It is not my case that it is only the IPS that has problems of integrity. Many other services that give leadership to the various wings of the bureaucracy have the same disease. But when the police is afflicted with it, complacence (arising out of penal action against just a few officers like in Maharashtra) or "masterly inactivity" (from an assessment that the evil is traditional and nothing much can be done about it) cannot be condoned. It is society that has to assert itself through motivating upright IPS officers and evolving a practical conduct for the whole service for strict adherence. The existing All India Services Conduct Rules (AISCR) have proved inadequate to the task.

Finally, a crucial question with regard to the autonomy that the police should enjoy came to the fore again during the year. Bihar DGP (Director-General of Police) D.P. Ojha was unceremoniously removed by the Rabri Devi government without the courtesy of telling the public the rationale for what appeared to be a capricious and petulant action. Before this, we were no doubt privy to the battle that the hapless officer was waging against a ruling party MP who had first been accused of illegal conduct and, thereafter, arrested and remanded to judicial custody. Ojha's charge was that the State government was treating the MP with a kid glove and was giving him facilities in jail that he was not entitled to. Ojha went public with the accusation and RJD (Rashtriya Janata Dal) president Laloo Prasad Yadav was quick to denounce the former. What was most shocking was Laloo Prasad Yadav's statement that Ojha was appointed as DGP in spite of an adverse report from the Central Bureau of Investigation.

There are two principal issues here. The first is, why did the State government appoint Ojha to this sensitive position if the CBI report had been unfavourable to him? Now, to the second issue. Assuming that Ojha was found suitable otherwise, why was he removed arbitrarily? Did he prove to be inconvenient to the ruling party bosses when he went for one of its MPs? These questions should agitate many of us who stand for enhancing police autonomy without diluting police accountability to the law. If such a fundamental issue is not resolved - the National Police Commission (1977) had indeed given a concrete scheme in the matter - there is little point in talking about police performance or IPS integrity.

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