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Association of Retired Senior IPS Officers (ARSIPSO)

This is with reference to my letter No. ARSIPSO/GS-BSD-4/2023 dated. 10/08/2023 on the 4th B.S. Das Memorial Lecture, which had to be rescheduled for unavoidable reasons.

The 4th B.S.Das Memorial Lecture to be delivered by Shri Anil Kumar Sinha, IAS (Retd.), on the subject Disaster Management: Creating Safer Communities, has now been rescheduled for October 14, 2023 as per the following:

Conference Room No. 2, India International Centre, Max Mueller Marg, New Delhi, October 14, 2023 (Saturday)

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It is reported in the press that a committee set up by the West Bengal Human Rights Commission has started enquiring into the events relating to the acts of vandalism in Presidency College, Kolkata. It is headed by an eminent academic who is being assisted by officers of the State Human Rights Commission. The State Human Rights Commission will make its recommendations on receipt of the enquiry report of the committee. The Human Rights Commission, under the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, can only make recommendations which are not binding upon the state government. However, the Commission can shame the State government by publishing its recommendations, even if they are not accepted.

One of the main demands of the students and teachers of Presidency College is that the hooligans responsible for the outrage should be severely punished and their nexus with some of the leading lights of the ruling party exposed. But for getting them convicted in the court of law, the cases have to be properly investigated by the police and ably prosecuted by the prosecution wing of the government. And here lies the rub. Our judiciary is independent, but the judicial processes are not. There is every likelihood that under extraneous political pressure and influence, the police will not thoroughly investigate and build up iron-clad cases against the culprits. Poor investigation will allow them to escape from the clutches of law. This is the reason why there is growing clamor for investigation by the CBI or court-appointed special investigation teams in cases where the ruling party is on the dock. This, however, cannot be a satisfactory solution. The police will have to investigate cases without being influenced by political authorities and maintain law and order impartially and not function as the pliant tools of the ruling party.

In the United Kingdom, Lord Denning in the famous case of R vs Metropolitan Police Commissioner emphasized the police constable’s independent nature by stressing that they are answerable to law and law alone. This insulation of the executive work of the police from extraneous interference was also laid down by Indian Supreme Court in the case of Abhinandan Jha vs Dinesh Mehta (AIR 1968 Supreme Court 117).

During the imbroglio inside the Presidency College when the hooligans were running amok, the police stood as mute spectators and reportedly told the Principal of the College that they have “no orders” to intervene. This is a shocking dereliction of duty. Under the Police Act, 1861, the police have to intervene to prevent commission of any cognizable crime and the failure to do so is a culpable dereliction of duty, and an offence under the Act.

Police abdicating their legal responsibility and acting at the behest of the ruling dispensation brings into focus the need for structural reforms in the police. The Supreme Court in the case of Prakash Singh vs the Union Government (2006) issued clear seven- point directives to Central and State governments to reduce political stranglehold over the police and make police efficient and accountable. The centerpiece of the Supreme Court’s directives is the establishment of State Security Commission to ensure that the police function in a neutral way according to law and the government does not exert unwarranted pressure on the police. Further, there will be a Police Establishment Board headed by DG of Police and senior officers to decide on transfer, posting and other service-related matters of police officers of and below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police. There will be a Police Complaints Authority to probe into allegations of misconduct against the police. It will act as a police watchdog. In order to infuse professionalism in the police, the apex court asked the states to separate the investigation and law and order function of the police. At present the investigation of the cases is shoddily done by ill-trained and unspecialized investigators and who are very often diverted for law and order duties.

Almost all the state governments, to a greater or lesser degree, have not implemented the directives of the court. A committee was appointed by the apex court under Justice K.T. Thomas to examine the affidavits filed by the State governments regarding the measures taken by them to implement the directions of the apex court. The committee checked up the ground realities in respect of four states, namely, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, West Bengal and Maharashtra. It found that the level of compliance in respect of the directives of the apex court in these states was dismal. The court pulled up the West Bengal government for keeping its Health Minister and not the Chief Minister as the head of the State Security Commission.

The Supreme Court now again cracked the whip and taken up seriously the issue of the implementation of its directives. It remains to be seen how far it succeeds to compel the recalcitrant states who are adopting various stratagems not to implement its directions to fall in line. Without police reforms and insulation of the police from political pressures, and snapping of the nexus between the police and the politicians, incidents like hooliganism in Presidency College, will continue to occur and the police, instead of intervening to de-escalate the situation, will stand as mute spectators and wait for orders. It is necessary now for the media, police and the civil society to raise the pitch for police reforms which is necessary for good governance and as, National Human Rights Commission put it, “in the interest of improving the human rights situation in the country”.

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