Terror: Need to strengthen the police

BY PRAKASH SINGH

The terrorists made their deadliest strike in India on November 26. In a series of incidents, they caused mayhem at prestigious hotels, railway station and public places. In retrospect, they seem to have achieved their objective of inflicting maximum damage on the Indian State. About 195 persons were killed and about 350 injured. The casualties include two IPS officers, one NSG Major and 18 foreigners. Mumbai City was held to ransom for three days. The terrorists got more than their share of publicity with all the channels covering the macabre proceedings live. The targeting of Israeli, American and British citizens conveyed that the incidents were part of the global jehad which the Islamists are waging.

The incidents have again brought into focus the need to strengthen the police and the intelligence agencies. Police reforms must be introduced without any further delay. Much has been said on the subject. With the government dragging their feet in the matter, the Supreme Court had to intervene and issue comprehensive guidelines to the Centre and the states on September 22, 2006.

The Apex Court gave six directions to the states and one to the Union Government. The directions to the states were aimed at insulating the police from extraneous pressures, giving it functional autonomy, making it more accountable, separating investigation from law and order duties in the metropolitan towns, introducing transparency in the selection of police chiefs, and giving a statutory minimum tenure to officers posted in the field. The central government was directed to constitute a National Security Commission, co-opting the heads of the central police organizations and involving them in decisions to upgrade the effectiveness of the forces and improving the service conditions of its personnel.

There has been some compliance – but mostly in the smaller states. The bigger the state, more entrenched the vested interests, greater the resistance. The Supreme Court has constituted a Monitoring Committee to oversee the implementation of its directions in the various states. It is obvious that unless the judiciary cracks the whip and makes an example of one or two non-compliant states, things would not move and the much needed reforms would remain an aspiration only. That would be a tragedy for the country. You cannot face formidable challenges of the present times with a police force which was raised to meet the challenges of a medieval past.

The issue is not of empowering the police. It is of having a police which looks up to the laws of the land and the Constitution of the country in the discharge of its functions. The harsh truth is that the police today is more concerned with carrying out the diktat of the executive, right or wrong, legal or illegal rather than protecting the life and property of the common man.

There are a number of other administrative measures which would need to be taken to give greater muscle to the police. We are heavily under-policed. The police-population ratio in India is 1:694. It is 1:334 in USA, 1:290 in UK and 1:416 in New Zealand. What is worse, even with less manpower on the ground, there are huge vacancies in several states. According to National Crime Records Bureau’s statistics for the year 2006, as against a total sanctioned strength of 12,09,904 civil police including district armed police as on 31.12.2006, there were only 10,91,899 policemen on the rolls. The vacancies were particularly acute in UP (1,19,893 against sanction of 1,33,595) and Bihar (43,273 against sanction of 56,341). The state governments have themselves to blame for these shortfalls.

The recruitment procedures also leave much to be desired. Unfortunately, it is tainted in most of the states. In UP, a scandal was unearthed in recruitments and 12 IPS officers were suspended. But unfortunately, follow up action was not taken to its logical conclusion. The UP Government does not have the courage to nail the political bigwigs who were at the root of the scam and the Central Government, for political reasons, is not prepared to hand over the investigation to the CBI. A constable who pays to be recruited cannot be expected to be honest. It is like poisoning the roots. The procedures need to be cleansed. The examples of Karnataka and Rajasthan could be emulated.

Modernisation of police forces should get high priority. The Centre has been liberal in releasing funds. Here also, the state governments have been tardy in properly utilising them.

Training remains a neglected area. As recommended by the Administrative Reforms Commission headed by Veerappa Moily, the deputation to training institutions must be made more attractive in terms of facilities and allowances so that the best talent is drawn as instructors. Besides, training should focus on bringing attitudinal change in police so that they are more responsive and sensitive to citizens’ needs.

Intelligence will have to be professionalized. It is presently geared more to collecting intelligence about political adversaries rather than elements trying to disrupt peace and communal harmony. The intelligence Bureau needs substantial augmentation in its strength, which has been ordered now. The Multi-Agency Centre also needs to be beefed up. The Research & Analysis Wing was defanged by one of the former Prime Ministers. The organization must be given teeth and it should be able to convey to the State sponsors that terrorism is not cost effective.

The law enforcement agencies would also need legislative backup. A stringent anti-terror law should be placed on the statute book. An extraordinary situation, as the Law Commission, said, calls for an extraordinary law. Besides, as recommended by Malimath Committee, Padmanabiah Committee and recently by the Moily Committee, the country must have a federal investigating agency. Anyone can see that the state police spokesmen are making contradictory claims and there is inadequate coordination among them.  A centralised agency would obviate turf wars and ensure better coordination among the states. There are hopeful signs that the government is planning to have a new anti-terror law and also constitute a federal agency.

The stakes are very high. The threat is getting magnified every passing day. Our first line of defence – police and intelligence – have to be strengthened. There is no room for any further delay.

(Prakash Singh, former Director General of Border Security Force, is a guest writer with Canary Trap)