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Saturday, September 6, 2003

Recently, the home minister Sri Devender Goud has announced some major changes in the functioning of the police. The three critical changes deal with: abolition of the outdated and inhuman “Orderly” system, introduction of citizen’s charters for various services, and removal of the responsibility of guarding the treasuries. All the three are welcome changes and the government should be commended for initiating these measures.

The most dastardly and inhuman practice in the police that continued from colonial days is the “Orderly” system, where constables who are recruited to function as public servants are reduced to work as indentured, bonded labour for higher officials. It is widely believed that a senior official in a key position has several orderlies at his disposal. Most of the time they are made to do domestic work ranging from cleaning, washing, cooking and baby-sitting children of higher officials. It is not only ludicrous for the public to pay for these private services, but it is a most shameful practice, which denigrates human dignity. As a result these functionaries have very low self-esteem and they never mature to become efficient public servants.

The nature of policing has undergone tremendous changes in the past 50 years. Earlier it was primarily used as a colonial instrument to keep the subjects under control. The recruitment at the lower levels also used to reflect this philosophy – it was thought that constables do not have to think on their own or function independently and have to just follow the orders of the bosses blindly! Policing in the modern milieu requires a degree of professionalism and competency. Fortunately the quality of personnel being recruited at various levels in the police has improved significantly and they also receive better training. Even then most of the policemen are reduced to working as unthinking machines, which is largely a result of the over centralized style of functioning. They are neither encouraged to think on their own nor allowed to function independently.

In many western countries it is customary for two police officers to work together as a team when they go on a patrol. This encourages teamwork and enables them to build mutual confidence. Such small teams are directly responsible to the head of the local police. It is a practice well worth emulating. In addition, many day-to-day police functions like traffic control and patrolling should be decentralized and kept under the control of local governments. Effective implementation of Citizen’s charters will go a long way in improving the accountability of the police at the local level and will help them establish good relationship with the community in which they are serving.

Thanks to the centralized functioning of the police, failure of judiciary and political interference, people have lost all faith in the crime investigation process. The solution lies in separating the crime investigation process from regular policing and making it completely independent of political control. In fact the practice in many western democracies is that crime investigation is a quasi-judicial process and is normally under the control of judiciary or independent prosecutors. At the local level each police station should be attached to a local court. In the long run, a culture of mutual cooperation between the judiciary and police will develop and it will go a long way in restoring people’s trust in the crime investigation and judicial process.

In many mature democracies, it is customary for even a stranger to look to a cop for any help. A cop on the beat is looked upon as a friend. We in India are far from that stage and in fact shy away from seeking the help of police in general. We must realize that the police often work in extremely difficult and hostile situations. They will work wonders if we create the institutional mechanisms to enable them to function in an accountable, transparent and humane manner. There is no society that prospered without rule of law. A modern police force is an essential ingredient for a civic society. It is in our hands to build such a citizen friendly institution. The government’s recent initiatives are certainly in the right direction.