Wednesday, March 3, 2021
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Policing in Nagaland – Harnessing the Traditional Strengths

Rupin Sharma (IPS)
Nagaland has a strong grass roots tribal and rural democracy – albeit not in the modern sense of the term. This system is based on customary laws of individual villages or tribes, and obviously there are variations interse among villages or tribes. These are not abnormal either. The system was traditionally supposed to deal with petty crimes but in practice, a majority of common law IPC and Special Law crimes are also being mediated upon by the village level system. However, this system lacks openness and uniformity besides accountability and has been seen as developing into a ‘mechanism of settling scores’ at the village level. The strength of the system, however, cannot be doubted. Similar such systems exist in most of the country by way of the Panchayats and their powers. However, the traditional, customary authorities in Nagaland, perhaps wield more powers than elsewhere in the country.
While this traditional system exists, the institution of police is slowly setting its feet in Nagaland. The Nagaland Police is hardly seen as effective in the modern sense of policing, and very few cases get reported to the Police Stations or the outposts. There are currently 80 odd Police Stations in the State. Out of these police Stations, most police stations report less than 40 FIRs registered in a year. In fact, the number of police stations registering less than 20 FIRs was itself quite substantial. The manpower deployed and logistics (by way of vehicles, computers, buildings, etc.) in a vast majority of the police stations, especially the rural police stations has hardly any worthwhile policing functions to perform by way of crime registration, investigation, detection or law and order duties and mostly sits idle throughout the year. This is a major reason why the public trust and faith in the institution of the police station and the police in Nagaland is low.
Not only is this system of captive deployments at the rural police stations a criminal waste of manpower but also resources. On the other hand, the village is such a pivot in the Naga society that if ground level policing at the village level is strengthened, the results would be fabulous. Moreover, this would help mellow down the influence of the extra-legal mechanisms and integrate them into the mainstream policing, wherever possible and strengthen the law enforcement and intelligence set-up.
The police station staff and even senior officers at times also allow a substantial number of crimes/deviant behaviours to be settled at the village levels citing the prevalence customary laws and traditions. It cannot be doubted or disputed that sometimes, the customary laws can be very effective in handling local issues and even deviant behaviours. However, with changing times, there is a need for this system to evolve along modern lines and also develop linkages with the modern policing institutions – life in villages can no longer be seen is isolation from others. There is an increasing mobility and interaction which calls for adoption of modern means – at least an evolution. Traditional and customary mechanisms are not geared to handle crimes or deviant behaviours having extra-territorial implications. Moreover, the variations in traditional/customary laws among jurisdictions (villages) would present further problems which could prove to be detrimental to enforcement of law and order and safety of individuals because of non-uniformity in definition of crimes, procedures for dealing with them and also punishments.
One of the easiest methods for developing this linkage is that all crimes, even petty crimes which are dealt with at the village levels – through customary laws – should be necessarily reported and documented by police, The Village Councils and Gaon Buras should be tasked with this objective. This documentation with the police and police stations would have multiple advantages – record-keeping and documentation, bringing about uniformity in handling matters, besides dissemination of information about deviants and criminals to other villages and police stations or even throughout the state wherever required in the interest of law and order functions. This central repository with policing linkages would also help counter local level crimes by acting as a deterrent. Needless to say, the institutions at the village level as well as the police would both get strengthened.
Community policing could be a very effective mechanism to bridge the gaps, ensure accountability, ensure adherence to rule of law, inculcate respect for rule of law, make policing effective and improve the law and order situation in the State.
Community policing is not the same as ‘civic action’ by police. However, the two, in Nagaland are often confused. While one can loosely be equated with charity, the other is ‘policing’ at heart, only that in the latter, the focus is the community needs and requirements which are dovetailed into the larger policing functions. The community is actively involved in policing in a ‘police-public partnership’ model with ‘core policing functions’ being performed in a partnership – both partners – the institution of police and the public taking equal ownership of policing.
It is therefore suggested that a Community policing model should be introduced in the State which synergises these aspects.
A broad outline of this model could be the following:
(i) A computer application/software be developed to ensure better “field policing”
(ii) The police station jurisdictions to be divided in to “Village level beats”;
(iii) Each village would be assigned to a group of policemen by name, specifically;
(iv) Each group of villages would be put under a Head Constable/Havaldar
(v) The policemen would visit the villages assigned to them and coordinate with the village authorities on policing matters at least thrice a week;
(vi) The HC/ASI would visit/coordinate their Village groups/authorities at least once a weak;
(vii) The sub-inspector would visit/coordinate the villages at least once a month;
(viii) The village beats or village groups would be assigned tasks centrally either at the level of the Police Station or SDPO or SP or DIG or even the PHQ. Once these tasks are assigned, the field formations shall be duty-bound to carry out the tasks. An indicative list of tasks can be drawn out and disseminated;
(ix) A software app would be developed for community policing and all tasks accomplished would be fed in the software to be maintained in a databank accessible to all senior formations;
(x) The police beat officers would have to act in consonance and coordination with the village level officers so that the village level systems are integrated with the community policing model to ensure accountability and improve performance.
The probability of this Community policing model succeeding in Nagaland is very high. However, for the endeavor to succeed, the government would need to help in the following manner:
(a) to fund development of a software for community policing and village level policing;
(b) to fund an initial set of “tablet PCs” for all villages and officers involved in the endeavor;
(c) reimbursement of expenditure on “internet connectivity” as Security Related Expenditure on lines similar to POL expenditure;
(d) providing two-wheelers for the patrolling parties and the policemen involved in community policing;
(e) reimbursing expenditure on POL for the community policing project;
(f) The community policing tasks could be derived from the Police Manuals or Indian Police Act or CrPC and other laws or through executive instructions which deal with prevention and detection of crimes and criminals.
There also is a crying requirement for rewarding positive outcomes in policing in general and the community policing model being proposed above. These systems would also have to be developed over time.
Based on my experience in Nagaland and interactions with large cross-sections of the society, it is suggested that we should try and harness and inter-link the strengths of both the traditional mechanisms at the village level and the modern policing mechanisms. These measures would greatly help in further improving the law and order in the state and restoring the faith of the citizens in the police and government mechanisms. The extra-legal mechanisms could then get either weeded out or integrated and formalized, wherever possible and required.
Happy Policing!

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