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POLICE REFORM AND THE CRUCIAL JUDICIAL ACTOR

Focus: GS-II Governance

Why in news?

‘Custodial death’ of a father and son in Sathankulam town in Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi district has led to protests.

Judiciary as beacon

  • Judiciary is seen as the source of hope and action when fatal violence by state actors comes into the picture, and Courts in India have often passed various directions to try and ameliorate the problem of police violence.
  • The Supreme Court through cases such as Joginder Kumar v. State of UP and K. Basu v. State of West Bengal in the 1990s, had passed guidelines to try and secure two rights in the context of any state action — a right to life and a right to know.
  • The Court sought to curb the power of arrest, as well as ensure that an accused person is made aware of all critical information regarding her arrest and also convey this to friends and family immediately in the event of being taken in custody.

Issues with implementation

  • The issue is, it took a decade to give statutory backing to these judicial guidelines, which are now a part of the law.
  • In Prakash Singh v. Union of India (2006) case, the Court pushed through new legislation for governing police forces to be passed by States across India.
  • A key component of the new legislation was a robust setup for accountability that contemplated a grievance redress mechanism.
  • The issue of police reform ranks high in the scheme of things for governments, as several States remain in contempt of the Supreme Court’s judgment.

Another step taken by Judiciary to reduce violence

  • Judicial concern with police violence is also witnessed in a different manner — judicial support for “scientific” investigations.
  • The support and fascination for techniques such as narcoanalysis, ensuring video recording of investigations, passing orders for installing closed-circuit television cameras inside police stations, all comes from a place of grudging acceptance by courts about how often police employ physicality to obtain evidence.

Systemic failures

The approach taken by the Judiciary of simply passing directions and guidelines has not been effective.

The gap between the highest court and the lowly police officer in India has been demonstrated through studies which show how despite criminal laws being struck down as unconstitutional, they continue to be enforced in various parts of the country by local police.

Why do we need Police Reform in India?

  1. The basic working principle of policing is still colonial in India which is a repressive force. An independent country needs a democratic police system that is service oriented that instils faith among its citizen.
  2. Politicization of Police system due to the interference of political leaders and party workers has lead to loss of its autonomy and degraded its respect among citizen.
  3. The poor quality of investigation which leads to a lower conviction
  4. The advancement in technology which has opened new dimensions of crime which can not be tackled by the current system
  5. To prevent the highhandedness of police in the form of extra-judicial killings. Recently NHRC noted that 206 cases of encounters occurred in the last 12 months
  6. To improve the Police to Population ratio
  7. To improve people’s trust in policing system
  8. To improve rotten criminal justice system
  9. Both pre and post-independence, a number of committees and commissions have been appointed to give recommendation for Police reform.

Way forward

  • Rather than expend energies in only passing more guidelines, constitutional courts must seriously contend with the concrete cases that come their way and expose how hard it is for a common man to get justice against police violence, either through compensation claims or prosecutions.
  • It is time to consider sanctions at a larger scale and impose monetary penalties at the district level, to drive home the message that the erring actions of one officer must be seen as a failure of the force itself.
  • SC could strike an inspired move by reorienting their guidelines to try and change the practices of magistrates, over whom they exercise powers of superintendence, as opposed to other non-judicial actors.

-Source: The Hindu

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October 2022
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