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India has one of the most corrupt police forces in the world. In some ways, not much has changed since the Sultans and the Mughals, where policing meant the enforcement of sovereign authority, rather than some civic duty to protect the citizen. Efforts to correct the situation have all come to a naught and on one hand, the country is under-policed, on the other, law and order is more often than not enforced by paramilitary police forces.
India is grossly under-policed—the ratio of 138 personnel for 1,00,000 people is one of the world’s lowest. This results in a distorted kind of policing where government expenditure is biased towards the paramilitary rather than the civil police, which is also poorly equipped and trained.
Given his background as a policeman, Vappala Balachandran has skilfully knitted his professional career with an erudite analysis of Indian internal security problems, with suggestions on ways they could be dealt with. It is difficult to fault his penetrating analysis of India’s internal security problems. But it is not so easy to agree with his key prescription—the need for greater centralisation of the police system.
Balachandran criticises, and justifiably, the practice of using the force to police social laws like dowry, infectious diseases etc. In UP, the new CM set the police on amorous males.
According to him, the bane of the system is the fact that states do not share their responsibility of internal policing with the Union government, resulting in a gross misuse and overuse of the police force. He strongly criticises, and with much justification, the practice of using the force to police social laws like food adulteration, dowry, tackling infectious diseases, copyrights and so on. In UP, the incoming chief minister thought nothing of having the police deal with over-amorous males, and of course, now we have police forces dealing with enforcing dietary rules. The Mumbai police was also made to obsess about bar dancing, rather than night patrolling.
Indeed, Balachandran points out a study of statistics that reveals that in 2014, nearly 70 per cent of the crimes the police dealt with were minor crimes; only 30 per cent or so were serious ones under the Indian Penal Code.
After the East India Company rule ended, the British created a district-based policing run by the Indian Political Service and its successors, the Indian civil Service and the Indian Police Service. This was run out of Whitehall through the Viceroy and the governors. In the main, however, the British depended on the army to do its internal policing—witness its use at Jalianwalla Bagh. Their biggest failure was the anarchy during Partition.
Because the British were focused on preserving their empire, they took precautions to maintain a strong force in its peripheries comprising military levies like the Assam Rifles, Cachar Levy, the various scouts units in the North West Frontier Province. Subsequently, as the national movement came up, the British established the Crown Reserve Police Force (predecessor to the Central Reserve Police Force) in 1939. These provided the police with its legacy and in the 1960s the ITBP and the BSF came up for border policing. Yet, there is the alarming reality that independent India too had to deal with its problems through the military, beginning with the Telangana movement, the Naga insurgency, the Punjab movement and eventually Kashmir.
Central to Balachandran’s critique of policing today are the constitutional arrangements which leave law and order as a state subject. He has delved into the making of the Constitution and traced the reason why such a system evolved. He wants a central police force with all-India jurisdiction.
The problem with this suggestion is the nature of this country. Is it a union of states, a federation of states or a confederation? Given the politics of the 1940s, things could have gone in any of those directions. Post-independence India saw strong centralising tendencies because of the monopoly of the Congress. Balachandran feels that the Centre was not strong enough.
When it comes to policing, the issue is not the power of the Centre. Practical experience reveals that bureaucrats sitting in the Home Ministry in New Delhi are no great geniuses in dealing with the security situation. Balachandran has himself enumerated the practices of other countries and their emphasis on civil policing.
At the end of the day, the quality of policing will reflect the quality of democracy. As long as that remains confined to the fact that Indian democracy means the holding of regular elections, sans any impact on the social and communal inequities, the situation will not change. Only when democracy percolates down to the lowest level will the policing system change.