Time to activate Police Reforms

B L Saraf
While hearing number of petitions challenging sedition law the Supreme Court, on 11th May, passed an interim order which effectively put on hold Sec 124 A Indian Penal Code that defines and penalizes sedition . So, court granted some relief to the persons booked under this section . After its consistent opposition to the review of 1962 judgment, the Central Government changed stance and prayed before the court for deferment of the proceeding as it intended to reconsider the law, on its own. The Government’s lawyers stated in the court that the prime minister wanted the sedition law to be reviewed in the spirit of “Azaadi ka Amrit Mahotsav.” Indeed, the SC’s 11th May order is a great balancing act that conceded space to the democratically elected Government to take to the legislative route for a course correction. However, we have to wait which organ of the state will provide ultimate answer ? For sure, the law needs a serious revisit on all material aspects.
The sedition law was introduced by the British to deter freedom fighters from fighting for independence of the country. It was used against Mahatma Gandhi in 1922 and thereafter against other persons who struggled against the British yoke. Ironically, UK has abolished this law in 2009. The sedition issue came up before the Supreme court in 1962 when necessity of Section 124 A in IPC was questioned. The Court was requested to answer whether the compulsions of British Rulers were applicable to the rulers of free India. The court ruled in favour of retention of the provision on the IPC. That judgment is under review.
Though it has been there since centuries, but post 2014 we are witnessing a scene where law of sedition is invoked almost at the drop of a hat. Governments, be at Delhi or in the States, now routinely resort to Sec 124A IPC whenever questions, though genuine but inconvenient to the rulers, are asked. Rather than providing an answer the state authorities book the questioner and silence him under the law of sedition. Hundreds, across country, are languishing in jails facing the accusation. Unfortunately, the police personnel appear obliging the Governments they serve and cause serious misuse of the law. While most of them do it at the bidding of the political bosses, some police men act more’ vigorously ‘ to please the bosses than asked, just to be on their right side . Such a situation demands some freedom for the law and order enforcers to act under the rule, not caring much for the pleasure or displeasure of a politician .
It has been our tragedy that every Government and the ruling party has used police force as its extended arm to further party interests and silence the opponents. In some situations the force has been an obliging partner while as in many cases the police finds itself unwillingly co-opted and would like to get unshackled. The Supreme Court has devised a way for releasing the police force from the grip of ever demanding politicians. Unfortunately, not much travel has been on the devised route .
In 2006 the Supreme Court passed certain directives in what is called Prakash Singh judgment, which were aimed at reforming the country’s centuries old Police law. Broadly, the court’s directions covered seven areas; State security commissions: the appointment and tenure of DGPs: the tenure of other police officers: the separation of investigation from law and order: the police establishment boards for transfers, postings and promotions: police complaints authorities: and the National Security Commission. Taking the cue, in 2006 Central Government prepared a draft Model Police Bill and circulated it among states for framing their own law on the subject. In 2015 Niti Aayog published a paper on building smart police, and while preparing the paper they were informed that 15 states had formulated their State Police Act and two states -Gujrat and Karnataka had amended their police acts. In January 2019 Aayog was told that the Central Government has reviewed the Model Police Act 2006 and, accordingly, a draft Model Police Bill,2015 was prepared and placed on the website of BPR&D. As ‘police ‘ is a state subject it is primarily the responsibility of State Governments to formulate new Police Act, for which the Central Model Police Bill may be a guide.
It will pertinent to recall that in J&K the Home Department framed Draft Police BILL, 2013 and published it for inviting comments / suggestions from all stake holders . The Draft was prepared pursuant to the Supreme Court judgment in Prakash Singh’s case.The Bill intended to reform Police functioning in the State to “provide impartial and efficient Police Service, safe guarding interests of the vulnerable sections of society and responding to the democratic aspirations of citizens.” Though an attempt was made to improve Police functioning in the State many knowledgeable felt that there was necessity to have a relook on some of the measures, while as few more need to be added. Ever since then no body heard what happened to that Bill. In any case when the exercise is retaken, the Bill needs to be updated and brought in tune with the Central Government’s Model Bill of 2015.
Among various reasons the police reform required is the one which has a direct bearing on the Criminal Justice Delivery System – which many, rightly, believe is on the verge of collapse. Disproportionate acquittals in the trial of criminal cases is often set forth as an example. Honest and efficient investigation is the bedrock of proper crime detection and successful prosecution of the offender. In this context, one had hoped the proposed law would make some improvement. The suggestion to have a separate investigation wing of the police was well taken.
No matter the wishes of their political or administrative bosses it is police men who actualize them on the ground. Therefore, if any reform is contemplated in the sedition law the Police Act has to be, concurrently, attuned to that reform : besides, making it Supreme Court directions compliant – given in the Prakash Singh’s case.
The state Draft Bill, mentioned here, if retrieved from the records could provide a foundation on which an efficient, progressive and people friendly Police legislation can be built .
(The author is former Pr District & Sessions Judge)