Minding the police

In the backdrop of the current volatile situation there has been a number of recommendations on police reforms and the independence of the police force. The main proponents of these are former police Commissioners and other prominent citizens.

In my view, no other police force in the world enjoys as much independence as the Delhi Police. It is accountable only to the lieutenant governor (LG) of Delhi and the home secretary of the Union government. There are apprehensions of political pressure in certain situations, but the fact is, no one stops the police from performing their law and order duties. There is little interference from the state government.

Then why is the Delhi Police failing in its duty to prevent crime and effectively handle the law and order situation? The biggest problem is the multiplicity of tasks that the Delhi Police has taken upon itself, many of which have little to do with policing. These include licensing, checking unauthorised construction, traffic control, registration of restaurants etc. Often, this splinters accountability. Take the recent incident of gangrape. Traffic is the subject of the Transport Department but the Delhi Police has taken up a large part of this responsibility. So allegations and counter allegations were traded between the traffic police and the Transport Department, especially about who was responsible for executing the guidelines.

Second, policing in Delhi suffers because there is no mechanism to make police officers accountable, whether it is to the political executive, the civil administration or the citizen. The commissionerate system was introduced by the British in presidency towns but not in Delhi. Under this system, the police are accountable to the state government and the public. In Delhi, the LG and the Union home secretary cannot go into the nitty gritty of police administration.

Third, there is no mechanism at the grassroot level to deal with people's grievances against the police system. It is extremely difficult to get an FIR registered by the Delhi Police, even in genuine cases. The police system does not inspire the confidence in people to approach senior officers. Even when someone does succeed, it rarely yields results — given their numerous non-policing functions, officers at the middle or upper levels are hardly involved in field investigations. This is in contrast to the civil administration, where there are various forums for people to flag their grievances. In the event of a major law and order problem, this lack of an outlet for grievances leads to the situation becoming volatile because of the pent up frustrations.

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