Challenges facing Police leadership in India

Dr Ashok Bhan
The brutal killing of Bulandhahar SHO Inspector Subodh Kumar Singh has once again brought into sharp focus urgency of reforms as well as capacity building so that Indian police can meet the current and future challenges.
A lot has been spoken and written about the lackluster implementation of Supreme Court Directives passed in 2006 on police reforms in Prakash Singh vs The Union of India. A recent CHRI study reveals that, more than a decade down the line, there is not a single case of full compliance and that the State Governments have “blatantly rejected, ignored or diluted significant features of the directive”. Governments want to retain a tight grip on the police for reasons which are well known. Police is being made accountable to the political party in power and not to the law. Police leadership must rise to the occasion if people’s faith in the law enforcement agency has to be restored.
While the nation struggles to implement the lofty police reforms, let us spare some thoughts for objectives which may appear mundane but are of vital importance for improving policing and are doable without ruffling feathers.
The states must invest adequately in training quality investigators. In the 2008 Arushi murder case, there were twists and turns pointing towards total lack of investigative skills. The crime was initially ascribed to domestic servant Hemraj. The investigators had not even searched the whole house and were totally unaware till dead body of Hemraj too was found the next day. By hit and trial technique, police then found a new suspect in another domestic help Vishnu. Eventually CBI arrived at a totally different conclusion. The NOIDA police messed up the case for lack of skills and under pressure from a media-trial, which had begun. Nearer home, in the 2009 Shopian drowning case, the investigators had no clue till CBI established the case of drowning through scientific evidence and found the complicity of a lady doctor in fudging samples to implicate security force personnel in a case of rape and murder. These cases are still sub judice. The point being flagged is that the lack of skills is seriously jeopardizing proper scientific investigation.
How many state police training institutes have a full fledged forensic science laboratory to train newly inducted Sub Inspectors, Dy SPs and prosecutors? How are these investigators expected to achieve excellence in scientific investigation when training institutes and police stations lack focus on this aspect? Old timers will recall that in late 1970s, on the instructions of the then Director General of J&K police, a forensic kit was provided to each police station. These were just basic tools but handy and had generated a lot of interest. How well equipped are police stations in the country today to pick up evidence in the wake of rapid advances made in the field of forensics? We have failed to keep pace with advances in technology to aid police investigations.
In J&K, we have advanced many notches in using technology by SOGs to intercept communications in anti-terrorist operations. Similarly, our cyber cells have built some capacity to deliver. However, infrastructure is lacking in providing Intensive training in scientific investigation. The SOGs, who have performed admirably well in generating intelligence and spearheading anti-terror operations, do not get backing of quality investigation to bring to justice perpetrators of terrorist violence and their support structure. NIA will not be able to take up all cases. We must develop capability within the force to investigate and prosecute cases of terrorist violence.
The neglect of J&K Forensic Science Lab has often been highlighted (Daily Excelsior, 08 December 2017). This important component of scientific investigation is known to be on the brink of a collapse due to lack of fresh inductions of trained staff. Instead, it is learnt to have become a resting place for blue eyed policemen, who according to reports, constitute nearly half of its strength. The infrastructure, placement of trained cadre and maintaining autonomy of the FSL should be among the priorities to provide impetus to quality scientific investigation.
The Police Station is the face of any police force as it is here that common people come in contact with the enforcers of law and order. In the wake of challenges of fighting cross border terrorism, separatism, left wing terrorism, political interference etc the central position of the Police Station in the criminal justice system in India has eroded over the years. The basic responsibility of prevention and detection of crime have been relegated to the backburner.
Even in states facing terrorism and violence which receive generous Central grants under SRE, the facilities don’t percolate to the Police Station level. It is a rare sight to see a new vehicle being allotted to a police station. The police stations are invariably starved of sufficient strength and basics like stationery. While the country is marching towards paperless offices and transactions, Police Stations have a long way to go. It is a pity that they have to depend on the complainants for stationery and transport to the scene of crime or courts.
The centrality of Police Station as point of delivery of criminal justice must be recognised and State Governments must invest adequately to strengthen Police Stations. The choice of Station House Officer and skilled investigating staff on merit as well as improving facilities in Police Stations are not difficult to achieve. The police stations starve for manpower as security of protected persons, law and order duties and anti-terrorist operations get precedence. Unless investigating staff is earmarked in a Police Station and provided necessary skills and tools, the primary tasks of prevention and detection of crime will remain a distant dream.
An Addl DGP of UP Police was shown showering rose petals from a helicopter on a Kavadia procession on 9th August 2018. In the absence of any plausible reason, his act can be mildly described as inappropriate and unacceptable. The leadership of the Indian police will need to introspect. They are duty bound to be accountable to the law and it is not necessary to wait for implementation of Supreme Court Directives. Police reforms need not be made a pre-condition for the autonomy in functioning of police. Autonomy is there for all to see if the police leadership decides not to sell their conscience for a good posting or a post-retirement engagement.
The stock of J&K Police and its leadership rose substantially in carrying out a professional investigation in the unfortunate and gruesome Kathua rape and murder case of January 2018. While the merits of the case will be decided by the courts, the leadership did not succumb to the intense external pressure to derail investigation. It matters little if this stand of police leadership, if reports are to be believed, cost the incumbent police Chief his job. Truth must prevail. Siding with the truth will attract costs. The Police leadership must show strength to accept these costs. That is the way forward if Indian Police has to assert the majesty of rule of law and meet the future challenges including the turbulence of an election year in 2019.
(The author is former Director General of Police and Former Member, National Security Advisory board)