Not by autonomy alone

News: Recently, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and other political leaders have demanded for making agencies like the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) more autonomous.

This has also raised questions on the poor state of state police forces.

What are the issues in the State Police forces?

(1) In fact, almost all the State governments have done nothing to free their own police forces from political interference.

(2) The police machinery and infrastructure have been inherited from the British. These are deeply colonised entities that cannot enforce the law without draconian powers.

For example, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act or UAPA, the anti-dowry, anti-domestic violence and SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act etc. Further, the Observer Research Foundation has published that there are 26,134 clauses in various laws that call for imprisonment of corporate offenders.

(3) There is a lack of political consensus and understanding among the police forces about the fair application of the rule of law.

For example, when the Supreme Court tried to dilute some of the draconian clauses of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. It led to a huge political outcry, and the law was amended to make arrests compulsory if any offence is alleged.

(4) The multiple cases of vigilante justice suggests that public faith in the police force’s ability to deliver on law and order and justice is weak. Mobs and crowds sometimes tend to take the law in their own hands because they do not expect the police to do their jobs with diligence. A Lokniti Survey 2018 found that less than 25% of the 15,000 people who responded across 22 states said they had trust in the police.

(5) Our police forces are simply not equipped to be effective. They are underfunded, understaffed and incapable of doing their jobs even when they want to. The politicians seeking to get elected choose to spend more of the state resources on freebies and “private goods”, and not “public goods” like policing and law and order.

(6) The UN-recommended police-to-population ratio is 222 per 1,00,000 population. India’s police-to-population ratio is well below 150. In the poorer states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, and even West Bengal, this ratio is lower, below 100 per 1,00,000 population.

Way Forward
Short-term

There is a dire need for reinventing the methods of policing. The technology like drones, street cameras, bodycams, monitoring of social media websites, and facial-recognition software etc. should be deployed.

The key to effective policing lies in developing deep information linkages with India’s multiple communities of caste, religion and tribe. The police need to develop an information base. The network should be based on the Dunbar principle i.e., to gather intelligence on smaller, homogeneous groups, and use artificial and human intelligence. It will help in predictive policing. The police can take proactive action to prevent trouble.

The police will be better served if it monitors and gathers deep information on smaller groups in the population, rather than just blindly relying on numbers or technology to do their jobs.

Much of the policing has to be done by the communities themselves, and not just by the men in uniform or police personnel.

Long-Term solutions

There is a need for expanding the number of police personnel or ensuring that an adequate amount of the funding goes to police machinery. For instance, India probably needs at least one million more men in uniform.

The government should take steps for de-politicisation and the reform of police administration and staffing.

Source: The post is based on an article “Not by autonomy alone” published in the Business Standard on 01st June 2022.

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