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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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- Sankar Sen, IPS
Senior Fellow - Institute of Social Sciences
Former Director General - National Human Rights Commission
Former Director - National Police Academy

The murder of Assistant Commissioner of Delhi Police Rajbir Singh raises a few disturbing issues concerning policing and law enforcement. Rajbir Singh who had eliminated some dreaded gangsters and militants in high-profile encounters was a flamboyant officer of Delhi police. He was a brave and tough officer whose work was lauded by his superiors enabling him to get quick promotions. As reported in the press, he was winner of President’s Gallantry Medal and other distinctions. However, as happens in the case of many ambitious police officers, he did not care for rules and norms and got enmeshed in many controversies. There were allegations that he was involved in shady deals with builders and promoters. It is not clear whether he was killed by the builder during a tiff or there was a well-laid conspiracy to murder him. Further, police investigation will unravel the truth.

Rajbir earned name and notoriety as a sharp-shooting-encounter-specialist. He won appreciation from the departmental bosses as well as from the public for his dare-devilry. In our country the public also love tough, extralegal action against the criminals who are escaping conviction and getting away scot-free because of the malfunctioning of the criminal justice system. The public, and particularly the educated middle class, do not mind if in the process the police start taking laws in their own hands and become executioners themselves. There is also pressure on police officers in the field from political masters and even departmental superiors to show quick results by means fair or foul.

The slow moving criminal justice system of the country compounds the police dilemma. Trials drag on indefinitely in courts of law; witnesses are easily gained over and turn hostile. Criminals are able to escape punishment by devious means and feel further emboldened to carry on their nefarious operations. The police thus face tremendous pressure to adopt extra-legal and shortcut means from the political bosses and departmental superiors and also from the members of the public. Indeed, encounters are not the problem but symptoms of a collapsing criminal justice system. Civil libertines presume that all extra-judicial killings stem from the bloodthirstiness of the police themselves; but this is not always the case. The police are encouraged to do the dirty work of the society because the criminal justice system is not functioning and overhauling the entire system of justice is too big a task.

In many state police forces now there are encounter specialists who become darlings of political masters and police bosses. In the name of firmly dealing with the dreaded criminals and terrorists they turn into cold-blooded liquidations. The heady wine of power and success turn their heads and many of them become corrupt. They turn into extortionists who enrich themselves by dubious means. It is alleged that ACP Rajbir Singh who had developed nexus with the promoters and builders was ultimately hoist with his own petard. The violent and corrupt propensities of these officers are not unknown to the senior officers of the organization, but they are lionized because by adopting the extra-legal methods they deliver the goods. Unfortunately, when troubles thicken they are cast away by their political and organizational bosses. Recently in Gujrat the well-known encounter specialist D.G. Vanzara found to his utter dismay that the Chief Minister and political leaders who were appreciating his work earlier, dumped him because they wanted to present an untarnished image before the Supreme Court. Like Cardinal Wolsey, Vanzara had to rue his unthinking loyalty to the king. Similarly, Rajbir’s departmental and political patrons have quietly distanced themselves from this unseemly case. It is reported in the press that in his funeral ceremony there were no wreaths from his senior officers. Only a junior officer represented Delhi police.

In every police force there are some violence-prone officers who repeatedly figure in abuse and misuse of force. In USA Christopher Commission, which looked into the misuse of force by the police after the Rodney King incident in Los Angles could pinpoint a few officers who are frequently involved in blatant misuse of force? There should be no hesitation on the part of police leaders to discipline, and if necessary, to weed out these black sheep.

Unfortunately, there is supervisory cowardice. Senior officers often fail to muster courage to pull up their aberrant subordinates who often enjoy political patronage. Further, supervisory cowardice is compounded by systemic arrogance, which generates a belief among many officers that they have the right to use power and influence to punish anyone posing, according to their perceptions, threats to public order and safety.

In Indian police peer supervision is also conspicuously missing. Peer supervision can be a powerful tool for ensuring police accountability and all-round good policing. In Japan police officers work in pairs with the understanding that one officer is responsible for ensuring the correct work and conduct of the other. In India also policemen work in groups but the ethos is against the assumption of mutual responsibility. Peer supervision is closer and better informed than supervision by senior officers. But it has unfortunately remained a neglected aspect of internal regulation.

In this connection it is to be borne in mind that encounter per se is neither illegal nor undesirable. The police and security personnel when attacked by criminals and terrorists can exercise the right to private defense. Genuine encounters for the purpose of dealing with dangerous criminals and terrorists come within the framework of law with reference to sections 97, 100 and 103 of IPC which deal with the private defense of life and property. Thus legal provisions do exist to justify use of force against criminals and terrorists, which may even result in causing of their death. But fake encounters have to be sternly discouraged. The National Police Commission (Fifth Report) strongly recommended that false encounters are to be discouraged because this is not the remedy for the situation. The answer is to strengthen law and legal processes. Violating the rule of law in the name of law enforcement is not desirable even from the limited police point of view. There are instances where criminals have used the police to bump off their rivals in intra gang warfare. Research has shown that notorious Dawood Ibrahim got many of his rivals eliminated through the police by tipping them in advance. Police arrived on the scene not for arresting but eliminating the criminals.

In police profession there are many who mistakenly think that end justifies the means. However, the point to be kept in mind is that adoption of impermissible means ultimately undermines the end. The practice of policing to break law in the name of law enforcement will be arbitrary as a process and random in its effect. Further, violating the rule of law will have the effect of “scapegoating” the police. Police officers, and particularly the police leaders, have to remember that when police recourse to extra-legal tactics to make up the deficiencies of law and legal procedures they are trying to remedy the inadequacies that they did not create. Further, illegality in the service of public safety as Dr. David Bayley puts it as, “makes policing a furtive and anxious activity and undermines pride which is the basis of job satisfaction”. And the most effective means of changing the mindset of police officers will be to convince the police leaders that violating the rule of law is not sound law enforcement. They should be encouraged to change the moral tone and management priorities within the organization to convince the rank and file that extralegal methods are counter-productive.

The views and facts stated above are entirely the responsibility of the author and do not reflect the views of this Association in any manner.

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