More focus on police reforms 

Veroli Zhimo

Police Reforms Day in Nagaland went by rather unceremoniously.

On September 22, 2006, the Supreme Court gave its landmark judgment listing out seven key steps for ushering in the much-needed police reforms. These include – limiting political control, merit-based appointment, fixing minimum tenure, separating functions of investigation from maintaining law and order, setting up of a fair and transparent system, establishing a police complaints authority in each state and setting up a National Selection Commission.

The judgment came as a result of a long struggle since 1996 by senior police officer Prakash Singh along with senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan and others.

A Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) assessment report titled, ‘Government Compliance with Supreme Court Directives on Police Reforms: An Assessment Report (2020)’ noted that “not a single state, nor the Union Territories, comply with the directives in true earnest,” since the passing of the directives over a decade ago.

To limit political control, the states were tasked with constituting a State Security Commission to ensure that state governments do not exercise unwarranted influence or pressure on the police. The State Security Commission would also lay down broad policy guidelines for policing and also evaluate the performance of the police.

Nagaland is one of the few states where a State Security Commission is in place. However, even in this, the state is ‘non-compliant’ as it has fulfilled only three out of the five sub-criteria.

The only directives that Nagaland fully complied with were related to the tenure, selection and grounds for removal of the DGP and tenure of ‘Key Field-Level Officers.’

While the apex court had ordered a gradual separation of investigative and law and order wings “to encourage specialization and upgrade overall performance,” the CHRI study stated that field-level assessment has not been possible.

In this regard, Nagaland was among the 12 states failing to comply with the directive as of April 2018.

The apex court had also given a strong call to set up a Police Complaints Authority in each state down to the district level since there are hardly any police accountability mechanisms in place.

In the national scenario where the police are increasingly being accused of being a tool of the government in power, it is important for the country to remind itself that the police are paid to protect the life and liberty of citizens. The manner in which the anti-CAA protests leading to the Delhi riots in February this year where 42 lives were lost and the subsequent unfair arrests made, suggest that the police were not operating in a free and fair manner.

Closer home, incidences of violence between the police and the citizenry, more notably the prominent cases of alleged assault on frontline workers during the COVID-19 lockdown, did not bode well for the state as public faith in the police is shaken.

Police reform measures are not static.

Police officers are trained primarily to meet resistance with force, and the need for that will never go away, especially in a society officially designated as a ‘Disturbed Area.’

However, the police force should not be used only as muscle. Their training still should include building positive relationships with all the people they are required to serve.

Policing has changed considerably after the COVID-19 pandemic and it is likely that police-public tension points could arise in these extremely challenging times.

New protocols have to be developed for guidance in order to prepare for any fresh and unanticipated challenges.

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