Skip to main content

Law & Order - A crisis waiting to happen

It’s 9.00 PM in Delhi, somewhat after the peak traffic rush hour. A motorist pulls up at a traffic light near Pragati Maidan, the exhibition grounds beside the Old Fort. A motorcyclist brushes past and knocks off a side mirror of the motorist’s car. There is a lowering of windows and a heated exchange – commonplace in a busy metro. Then, quite abruptly, the motorcyclist pulls ahead, blocking the motorist’s path, draws a handgun and fires point-blank through the car’s windscreen. The bullet hits the motorist on the left shoulder. No one bothers to help and the motorcyclist pulls away. The incident receives a three inch column in the middle pages of the local papers. More recently, a retired army officer gets shot in the groin similarly by a bunch of hoodlums who manage to escape. Another woman is fatally shot next to her car. These incidents receive better coverage.

Delhi would probably rank amongst the world’s most unsafe cities. Shooting incidents are common and the drawing of weapons is even more frequent. I too have been through this ghastly experience at 6.00 AM one morning at a traffic intersection only a few months ago. Seldom are such incidents reported to the police and even more rarely are the culprits ever caught.

The fact is, Delhi’s population is growing by over 5% per annum. The strain on limited resources creates tremendous pressures both socially and on the city’s crumbling infrastructure. Road rage is one expression of these pressures. Petty crime and physical violence are even more recurrent. The police service is understaffed and frankly, helpless to respond effectively. Rarely do individuals who have been harmed even bother to file a complaint, often due to indifference on the part of the investigating agencies.

A large chunk of the Delhi Police Service is dedicated to the security needs of politicians and other VIPs. The maintenance of general law and order is not priority. This is a dangerous trend, which runs the risk of slipping very quickly into a serious crisis. The government needs to clamp down much harder with a zero tolerance policy if this decline is to be arrested. But recurring political interference has already demoralised a fine force into embarrassing mediocrity - and a frightening state of indifference.

Police services in each state are constituted in a manner that they are ultimately accountable to respective state governments, with the Chief Minister/Home Minister as the final authority. In Delhi, the structure of reporting is different, which only worsens this ‘fiefdom’ like situation. The service is under the jurisdiction of the central government, despite the city having been granted some sort of state-hood with a duly elected government. Oddly, the police service remains regulated by the Police Act of 1861 which is completely out-dated. Drafted with a totally different set of objectives, the Act can no longer apply itself effectively in a society meant to be governed on democratic principles. Some reform measures were indeed proposed a few decades ago with the establishment of a National Police Commission, 1979 . Chaired by an eminent individual - Dharam Vira, ICS (previously Secretary of the Cabinet and then Governor of Bengal) the Commission examined the functioning of the service in thorough detail and offered recommendations for reform, some of which still appear relevant today. For instance, the final report recommended that the State Chief Minister as the final arbiter of the police should be replaced by a Security Commission comprised of state leaders including the Leader of the Opposition; a judge of the High Court together with eminent local citizens. This simple measure would remove substantially, if not eliminate completely, political meddling by the government of the day. Clearly, no politician was prepared to accept this. The police service provides the essential structure through which politicians wield their authority and vested interests override logic.

The Police Commission, 1979 had examined several other issues and offered suggestions for reform in areas such as police-public relations; equipment and procurement; human rights protection; recruitment etc. The government at the time accepted some peripheral suggestions that only brought about cosmetic changes, leaving the bulk of what would constitute serious reforms entirely untouched.

In succeeding years, excessive political interference in Delhi and elsewhere has led to falling standards as it obstructs the course of the functioning of the police force. Recruitment is the first area to be affected. There are allegations of serious corruption amongst some states in this process. Apparently, in some places, recruits have to cough up large sums to even be enlisted. Beneficiaries from such spoils go all the way to the top. If the basic premise of joining the service is based on an upfront investment, it does not take a lot of imagination to gauge the dedication with which these recruits will perform towards their duties. In the least, they will need to recover their investment.

There are other problems too. Facilities and housing perhaps tops the list. Some figures suggest that over 60% of the policemen in Delhi and Bombay - who are expected to work a 24 hour shift - do not have houses, living often in shanty towns or other forms of shared accommodation in wretched conditions. It seems unlikely that such individuals would show any kind of commitment to their work.

Like most other departments within the framework of government, the police service too is crying out for some serious administrative reform. A critical step would be to implement an amendment of regulations which gives the service more independence and is less prone to endless meddling. Within Delhi and other state capitals, the government should create a separate rank to cater to the security paranoia of ‘important’ individuals and their families. Perhaps this should be outsourced to a private agency. The police service’s priority ought to focus on the maintenance of general law and order and more effective functioning of its investigative role. Thirdly, the service simply needs greater budgets, more numbers and in turn, more accountability on its own part.

All of this needs to happen with paranoiac urgency. Currently, the growth in Police ranks is far behind the escalation in the general population they are required to support. Leaving it too late will make things worse and consequently, even more difficult to correct. For economic growth and development to be sustained, the preservation of law and order are essential. People need to feel safe and protected. Society deserves the assurance that the law is behind them. This is a fundamental right within a democracy. Violent crimes are now no longer isolated incidents that one hears of and forgets. They have become a fact of everyday life. A failure to fix this would amount to a failure of the state itself.


Popular posts from this blog

Uday: a federalist success story

At our 21 st Annual CEO Roundtable in Thimphu last week, there was spirited debate over the performance of the current administration. A participant suggested that the Ujjwal Discom Assurance Yojana (Uday), a scheme to reform India’s downstream power sector, for all its fanfare was actually a failure of sorts and that India’s renewable energy programme, specifically on solar energy, was lacking on many counts. Whilst it was my intuitive belief that both claims were unsympathetic, I thought it would perhaps be in order to examine the facts in detail and subsequently provide an assessment. This paper, accordingly, presents an analysis of the first of the two issues – the Uday programme. The second will be addressed in a subsequent piece. The electricity distribution crisis: background Electricity distribution has been disastrously managed over the last three decades and in 2015 was on the verge of absolute collapse. Under-priced power, operational inefficiency, broken equip

Farm Loan Waivers

Farming damage In 2008, when the Government of India announced a Rs 60,000 crore farm loan waiver, the decision horrified economists and the financial markets. The waiver, amounting to 1.3% of GDP, would cripple national finances and damage the credit culture. The moral hazard of penalising prudent borrowers would be systemic and enduring. However, its proponents argued that it would free farmers ‘from the suffocating clutches of endemic debt’ and, in the process, also provide a quick consumption stimulus to the economy. Subsequent events proved both assumptions awry and the folly of the decision was absorbed in a hard and painful way. Nevertheless, a lesson was learnt and federal Governments have since avoided a repeat. However, it would seem that it is now the turn of state Governments to blunder. In the last few months, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Punjab announced waivers of agricultural loans in their states to the tune of Rs 80,000 crore. Fortunately, the

The Employment Conundrum

Over the last three months, I have had the opportunity of engaging with our clients across various forums and cities. What provided a platform for this interaction was my briefing on four critical initiatives that we believe will, if properly implemented, serve as game changers with a palpable impact on economic output. The question that consistently came up almost everywhere was on the perception of jobless growth and consequently, rising unemployment within India. This has possibly been based on recent press reports and television debates that consistently cite certain headline statistics. These suggest a fall in employment levels between 2011-12 and 2015-16 compared to vigorous growth in earlier years, since 2004-05. Even on the surface, this conclusion does not gel fittingly with other statistics. For instance, indirect tax collections and consumption expenditure, which are both proxies of aggregate spending and wellbeing, do not corroborate falling employment. Tax collections