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Manipur crisis calls for urgent police reform

Manipur 2

Who’ll bell the cat?

Nirendra Dev
NEW DELHI, JUNE 7: The ‘Manipur crisis’ should leave everyone in tears; and more importantly it should leave policy makers ~ Netas primarily ~ concerned because over the decades, they have not attended to basic requirements to give the country an ideally good governance.
I’s not asking for the moon. From several quarters, one key recommendation has been that the police chief (DGP) should have a fixed tenure. At present s/he is at the mercy of the Chief Minister and the State Home Minister. Nagaland too has experienced something along these lines. In Manipur, no one can defend P Doungel and his force but his ‘replacement’ by a Tripura cadre officer is a message by itself.
Another key recommendation in the past has been that the DGP should be selected from a panel of 3/5 senior IPS officers and the panel itself should be prepared by the UPSC Chairman. Nothing has been done on these.
There is definitely a nation-wide clamour for reforms in police administration. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has spoken about certain limitations in today’s law. All these bring us back to the task of emphasizing once again that the archaic Police Act of 1861 should be replaced at the earliest.
The Supreme Court in a landmark verdict in 2006 in Prakash Singh & Others and Union of India took serious note of the issue of police violence and impunity and directed States to establish Police Complaint Authorities (PCA). The judgment also made crucial points on the separation of law and order functions from the investigation functions for the police.
During my career in journalism over the years, I have seen police function and also malfunction in various States under different Chief Ministers of different political parties.
The date, December 1, 2003, would be remembered as an important day but also a sad day for Mumbai police. The then City Commissioner of Police RS Sharma ~ a day after his retirement, who would have been otherwise relaxing with family members and friends ~ was arrested in connection with the Telgi stamp paper scam.
Not many police heads in the history of policing in India must have faced this kind of indignity ~ to be arrested a day after his retirement. Prior to him, Joint Commissioner of Police Shridhar Wagal was also held under MCOCA for aiding and abetting Abdul Karim Telgi in the running of his infamous syndicate.
In Gujarat after 2002 riots, from time to time police made the news for the wrong reasons. Senior IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt was one such case. Finally he was dismissed by the Modi Government and there were strong remarks from the Supreme Court against him.
The SIT report also claimed that Sanjiv Bhatt, along with former DGP RB Sreekumar and ‘activist’ Teesta Setalvad, had accepted a total of Rs 30 lakhs from Ahmed Patel, the political advisor of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, to frame the then Gujarat CM Narendra Modi in 2002 Gujarat riots.
“He (Sanjiv) had exchanged e-mails with rival political party leaders and was being tutored by the lawyer of NGO and its activist”, the Court had said. There have been several other controversial episodes with regards to the Gujarat police.
In Mumbai yet again, encounter specialist Daya Nayak was arrested over alleged the cop-don nexus. During the Gujarat riots of 2002, senior IPS officer from Uttar Pradesh, Vibhuti Narayan Rai had written a letter to several police officials lamenting point blank: “not only was the police unsuccessful in containing the violence… but it seemed that in many places policemen were actively encouraging the rioters”.
In many places, it goes without saying that the police always appear to be in an adversarial relationship with the common citizens. This was true pan-India cutting across all regions and State boundaries. Police forces are also said to be most ‘politicised’ in States such as Kerala and West Bengal.
The public perception of a policeman or even a policewoman is that of an intimidating, high-handed personality, who puts people in illegal custody and resorts to third-degree methods.
“The failure of the police should not be attributed to lower ranks but must be seen as a failure of the leadership, that is the failure of the IPS (cadres)”, Vibhuti Narayan Rai had written in his 2002 missive and common people seem to agree by and large.
With regards to policing history in India, in most cases, it has been found that either the State DGP would be a dedicated ‘Man Friday’ to the State Chief Ministers or they would have had
‘regular’ running feuds.
Under law, a State DGP has to be accountable to “law and law only” and not to any Chief Minister. But the fact is far away from what the law permits.
Men and women in Khaki should understand these at the earliest both in Manipur and in other Northeastern States.
After 1992-93 Mumbai riots, Justice BN Srikrishna Commission had said, “The officers of the squad systematically set about implicating as many Muslims and exculpating as many Hindus as possible irrespective of whether they were innocent or guilty.” The allegation has been cops backed the Shiv Sena. Moral of the lesson, the cops sided with the majority. How much have things changed in Manipur 30 years later in 2023?
A litigation is pending before the Supreme Court with regard police reform. The Union Ministry of Home Affairs has filed a Status Report by way of Affidavit in the Supreme Court on February 26, 2013. The matter, as they say, is sub judice.